Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management

Alford-Axelson Award for Nonprofit Managerial Excellence

The Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management at North Park University is proud to present the Alford-Axelson Award for Nonprofit Managerial Excellence. The purpose of this award program is to honor and continue the legacy of Nils G. Axelson, a devoted community healthcare leader and visionary, and Jimmie R. Alford, a recognized thought leader in the nonprofit arena, by recognizing and celebrating Chicago area nonprofit organizations that exemplify extraordinary managerial excellence.

Established in 2001, this award is presented at the Axelson Center’s annual conference. The winning organization receives a $10,000 cash prize and a commemorative award symbolizing the organization’s dedication to modeling nonprofit managerial excellence.

You can access the Alford-Axelson Award application here. (Click to see a list of 2023 application questions before applying.) Applications are due by 5:00 p.m. on March 8, 2023.



In order to be considered for the award, an applicant:

  • Must be a 501(c)3 organization
  • Must have a primary mission focus that benefits Chicago and/or its surrounding communities (includes Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will County)
  • Must provide direct services or programs or member/constituent resources
  • Must have an executive director in their role for 2 years or longer at the time of applying
  • Must have a strategic plan
  • Must certify that financial reports are audited annually by an independent CPA
  • Must have quantitative metrics to measure the organization’s impact
  • Ineligible organizations include grant making foundations, professional associations, hospitals, houses of worship, and K-12 schools.

Please note:

  • If you applied for the 2022 Alford-Axelson Award, but did not seek feedback on your application, your 2023 Alford-Axelson Award application will not be considered.
  • Organizations that have received the honorable mention designation or have applied in previous years are encouraged to reapply.
  • Past winners will not be considered.

If you are a small 501(c)3 organization that has been in existence 10 years or less, has a budget of under $1,000,000, and has fewer than 10 full-time staff, you might consider applying instead for the Excellent Emerging Organization Award.

Nomination Process

Staff, board members, and volunteers may nominate their own organizations by completing an application.

Anyone may nominate a deserving nonprofit organization. Send the Axelson Center an email at and encourage them to apply.

Application Process

  • Complete and submit the initial online application. (Please note, only applications submitted through the on-line portal will be accepted.) Use the Axelson Center’s Hallmarks of Nonprofit Managerial Excellence℠ for guidance.
  • Initial applications will be reviewed by the award committee and several organizations will be chosen as finalists to complete the Round 2 application. Finalist organizations will be notified no later than May 4, 2023. Finalists will have until May 31, 2023 to submit the Round 2 application.
  • Finalist organizations will be notified of the Round 2 application review meeting date and time, and are asked to have one contact person available via phone for clarification on questions that may arise during the meeting.
  • All qualifying finalist organizations will receive special recognition at the Axelson Center’s conference on October 20, 2023. The winner will receive a cash award of $10,000.

A Portrait of an Excellent Organization

This award focuses primarily on management aspects, not individual programming. We recognize that no organization is perfect—we are all on a journey to excellence. The selection committee considers to what extent each organization embodies the full range of managerial excellence criteria:

  • Clear, compelling, and well-communicated, mission and vision
  • Coherent organizational strategy that aligns programs and services to mission and goals
  • Strong and effective leadership by staff and board
  • Solid financial management
  • Diversified funding model
  • Well-developed fundraising and external relations program
  • Strong sense of integrity throughout organization’s culture
  • Shared sense of purpose and values within organization and among key external constituents
  • Process in place for evaluating organizational performance


All information collected during this process will be kept strictly confidential. North Park University will make public only the names and websites of the award winner and finalists. Portions of the data may be used at a later date for educational purposes, but not without prior permission from the organization.

Next Steps

If you have questions about the application or process, please email or call 773-244-5219. We will respond to your inquiry within three business days.

Please note, we will not release any information about the evaluation process or its outcomes until after the conference. All applicants will have the opportunity to request committee feedback on their application and are encouraged to do so after the conference.

2022 Alford-Axelson Finalists

Congratulations to our finalists for the 2022 Alford-Axelson Award for Nonprofit Managerial Excellence:

Chinese American Service League

Friends of the Chicago River

Girls on the Run Chicago

Infant Welfare Society of Chicago

Northern Illinois Food Bank

Nourishing Hope

Read about the 2022 Alford-Axelson and Excellent Emerging Organization Award Winners or view prior winners of the awards.