Nonprofit professionals at a custom training session.

2021 Nonprofit Conference

The Alchemy of Change

Better Nonprofits for Better Communities

May 19, 2021

9 am – 2 pm

The Alchemy of Change: Better Nonprofits for Better Communities will be held on May 19, 2021 in a virtual format. For over 20 years, Axelson Center conferences have included superb content and resource sharing–the Alchemy of Change will be no different.

Gathering nonprofit leaders from across the country, Alchemy of Change: Better Nonprofits for Better Communities will engage questions of both organizational and structural change, engaging the strategic and systemic realities that structure the work of nonprofits in Chicago. Be inspired by six TED-style talks, explore deeper at speaker follow-up discussions, and be equipped in facilitated workshops. Our speakers include Mae Hong of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Courtney Williams of the Obama Foundation, Brady Josephson of NextAfter Institute, Cyndi Suarez of Nonprofit Quarterly, and artist Tonika Lewis Johnson of the Folded Map Project.


The structure for the conference will involve two portions: Inspire and Equip. These two segments will be offered across all six topics with 3 speakers in the morning and 3 in the afternoon.

Inspire: Each of our speakers will give TED-style talks on themed topics: community, leadership, power, equity, innovation, and money.

Equip: Following each Explore talk, a facilitator will guide a 45-minute session to provide participants with tools to develop strategies to engage the topic in their own workplaces and communities.

Further details regarding the event schedule will be released in the coming months. If you are a sponsor interested in marketing opportunities at The Alchemy of Change, please fill out our sponsorship form.

Conference Speakers

Tyrone Freeman TwitterTyrone Freeman LinkedIn

Tyrone McKinley Freeman, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Philanthropic Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis

Tyrone is an award-winning writer, speaker and teacher whose work examines the intersections of philanthropy, activism, and race in America. A nationally recognized expert in African American philanthropy, he writes and speaks about various forms of Black generosity and social change, past and present.

Freeman is author of Madam C.J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving: Black Women’s Philanthropy during Jim Crow and coauthor of Race, Gender and Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations.

Prior to becoming a professor, he was a fundraising professional and served as associate director of the world-renowned The Fund Raising School. A proud HBCU alum, Tyrone graduated from Lincoln University with a BA in English; earned a Masters of Urban and Regional Planning from Ball State University, and a MS in adult education from Indiana University. He is the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in Philanthropic Studies from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Mae Hong TwitterMae Hong LinkedIn

Mae Hong, Vice President, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

Mae leads the Chicago office of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) and is responsible for serving individual donors, families, foundations and corporations throughout the Midwest. With nearly 25 years of nonprofit and philanthropy experience, she previously served as program director at the Field Foundation of Illinois. Her funding expertise includes children, youth and families; poverty alleviation; women and girls’ issues; and advocacy. She has also been actively involved in RPA’s leadership on the issue of diversity in philanthropy. Prior to entering the nonprofit sector, she worked in the publishing industry for several years.

Mae currently serves as the board chair of Illinois Humanities and is on the board of the Council on Foundations. Other leadership affiliations include the advisory board of the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, and leadership council of the Dorothy A. Johnson Center at Grand Valley State University.

She completed her graduate work in social service administration at The University of Chicago,and is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

Tonika Johnson TwitterTonkia Johnson LinkedIn

Tonika Johnson, Visual Artist

Tonika Johnson is a visual artist and photographer from Chicago’s South Side Englewood neighborhood. In 2010, she helped co-found Resident Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.). Within her artistic practice, Tonika often explores urban segregation and documents the nuance and richness of the black community. She was featured in Chicago Magazine as a 2017 Chicagoan of the Year. Her work has been featured at Rootwork Gallery in Pilsen, the Chicago Cultural Center, Harold Washington Library Center, and the Chicago Reader. Her current ongoing project, Folded Map, visually investigates disparities among Chicago residents while bringing them together to have a conversation, was also exhibited at Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA) in 2018. In 2019, she was named one of Field Foundation’s Leaders for a New Chicago and most recently, she was appointed as a member of the Cultural Advisory Council of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events by the Chicago City Council.

Brady Josephson TwitterBrady Josephson LinkedIn

Brady Josephson, Managing Director, NextAfter Institute

At the NextAfter Institute, Brady performs original research, develops evidence-based resources, and provides data-driven training to help organizations raise more money online to fund their life-changing work.

A charity nerd, adjunct professor, and international speaker, his thoughts have been featured in The Huffington Post, NPR, and The Chronicle of Philanthropy among others. He was the lead researcher and author of The Canadian Online Fundraising Scorecard, The State of Nonprofit Donation Pages, and The State of Nonprofit Email Cultivation. Brady is also a host of The Generosity Freakshow — a podcast discussing how we can improve, optimize, and grow giving.

Brady lives just outside Vancouver, British Columbia. You can follow him on Twitter, @bradyjosephson.

Cyndi Suarez TwitterCyndi Suarez LinkedIn

Cyndi Suarez, Editor in Chief, Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ)

Cyndi Suarez is Editor in Chief at NPQ. She is the author of The Power Manual: How to Master Complex Power Dynamics, in which she outlines a new theory and practice of power. She has worked as a strategy and innovation consultant with a focus on networks and platforms for social movements. She studied feminist theory and organizational development for social change.


Courtney Williams TwitterCourtney Williams LinkedIn

Courtney Williams, Director of Communications, Obama Foundation

Courtney has more than 15 years of experience leading communications in corporate, manufacturing, and nonprofit environments. She has worked for a wide range of industries with companies such as International Paper, Exelon, Smith & Nephew, and Northwestern University, serving in roles ranging from internal communications to community relations to media relations. She has worked extensively in the DEI communications space. Courtney holds a BS in journalism from Northwestern University and an MBA from the University of Memphis.

Conference Details

9:00 – 9:15 am Conference Welcome
9:15 – 10:05 am First Plenary Sessions
10:10 – 11:00 am First Workshop Sessions
11:00 – 12:00 pm Lunch Break
12:00 – 12:50 pm Second Plenary Sessions
12:55 – 1:45 pm Second Workshop Sessions
1:50 – 2:00 pm Conference Closing

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