Past Nonprofit Conferences

2018 Conference: “Embracing Inclusive Leadership—Uncommon Conversations About Diversity”

October 19, 2018 — North Park University

You’re a leader. But is your leadership inclusive? When it comes to race, gender, sexual identity, age and disability, what does inclusive leadership involve? Inclusivity and diversity aren’t boxes to check, but are necessary for nonprofits to thrive and excel in their work–impactful work requires diverse and inclusive leadership.

At the Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management’s fall conference, join 200 Chicago-area nonprofit leaders to learn about inclusive leadership and why it matters. Hear from keynote speakers Frances Kunreuther and Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, co-authors of Race to Lead: Confronting the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap and Rusty Stahl of Fund the People on vital topics regarding what diversity and inclusion mean for leadership, fundraising, and the future of nonprofit work.

Come to this one-day, participatory conference to join in conversations about effective strategies for embracing differences, addressing structural barriers to equity, cultivating allies, and building on diversity and inclusion to enhance organizational effectiveness.

Opening Keynote: Race to Lead: Confronting the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap

The nonprofit sector is experiencing a racial leadership gap. Studies show that even as the country becomes more diverse, the percentage of people of color in the executive director/CEO role has remained under 20%. Frances Kunreuther and Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, co-directors of the Building Movement Project conducted a survey with more than 4,000 nonprofits to find out why there are so few leaders of color in the nonprofit sector. Their findings challenge the way the nonprofit sector has approached the racial leadership gap. They show more similarities than differences in the background and preparation of white respondents and people of color and point to the need to transfer the responsibility for the racial leadership gap from those who are targeted by it (aspiring leaders of color), to those setting the norms and standards for nonprofit organizations and the broader sector. Join us for a discussion of their report, Race to Lead: Confronting the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap.

Candid Conversation: A White Guy’s Perspective on Advancing Equity

When was the last time you engaged in an open, honest, respectful conversation around advancing equity? How have you felt regarding the current social and political dialogue? Although interest in this issue is growing, these topics still challenge even the most skilled and progressive professionals and courageous leadership is required.

This panel features nonprofit and faith leaders who will share their efforts at advancing equity within their organizations. Through their personal experiences, panelists will illuminate sustainable strategies practitioners can implement within their own organizations to create a climate that fosters inclusiveness—including the importance of a CEO’s commitment to advancing equity and setting the tone from the top. Come to this workshop if you are interested in examining how to build white male allies and identifying opportunities for courageous action and deeper dialogue that can help advance equity in your organization.

Creating Brave Space: Storytelling and Performance to Advance Dialogue on LGBTQ Inclusion

Looking for innovative and informed ways to expand your work on diversity to include LGBTQ+ people and experiences? This session will provide context for some of the primary issues for people who identify as LGBTQ+ and some creative approaches for designing more inclusive environments. About Face Theatre is Chicago’s professional LGBTQ theater dedicated to using stories and dialogue to spark important conversations about gender and sexuality. In this interactive session, unpack assumptions, identify clear action steps that apply to various settings, and leave with new tools to create change.

Gender Equity #Hashtag Vs. Movement

While we all know the issue of gender equity existed long before #MeToo made its way to social media, we continue to struggle with how we can harness this attention and address the issue where we work, play and love in order to create a more just and inclusive world. Walk away from this session with practical tips such as using your voice for change, imparting knowledge and data and the realities of practicing radical self-care when working in this space. Gender equity is everyone’s problem, yet the social sector often bears the brunt of correcting it. What part will you play?

Real Talk About Real Change for Achieving Racial Equity: Practical Tools for Your Organization

To make real change in philanthropy, we are going to have to get comfortable talking to one another—sharing our experiences, our successes, and certainly our challenges. As a sector, we have seen positive shifts toward elevating and prioritizing racial equity, but there is still a lot to be done.

We can begin within our own organizations. Making racial equity an authentic part of our work requires us to integrate equity into the heart of all that we do—our grantmaking, operations, communications, and our leadership. While our foundations might be different, and our journeys will look different, we can work together to create a learning community that is encouraging this critical work.

During this interactive workshop, we will use the Pride Foundation case study to look at how they are working to advance racial equity within their organizations and work as a springboard for participants to talk with one another about their own process, progress, and challenges. Come with your questions and ideas for your own journey, and use our exercises, resources and learnings from one another to develop practical next steps.

Fund the People!

Fund the People challenges nonprofit and foundation leaders to maximize their investments in the nonprofit workforce. In this engaging presentation, consider talent-investing ways in which an individual’s equity journey can be used to knock down the barriers to intersectional racial equity in organizations and the sector as a whole. Learn about research, ideas, and practical resources you can use to advance equity and effectiveness within your sphere of influence.

Donny Acosta, Associate Director, About Face Youth Theatre

Donny Acosta is a queer performance artist from Orange County, California. He started working with About Face as a youth ensemble member and a member of the Youth Task Force. He has devised and performed his work all over the city including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Stage 773, the Abbie Hoffman Died for your Sins Theatre Festival, and Salonathon. He is a proud ensemble member of the Drinking and Writing Theatre and artistic associate of the Wild Atlas Theatre Company.

Megan Carney, MFA, Artistic Director, About Face Theatre

Megan Carney is the artistic director of About Face Theatre. Formerly, she directed the Gender and Sexuality Center, one of the Centers for Cultural Understanding and Social Change at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). At UIC she developed programming to investigate and reveal diverse LGBTQ+ identities and histories through oral history collection, participatory workshops and a variety of public programs. She has served on the LBTQ Giving Council of the Chicago Foundation for Women and with the Chicago Restroom Access Project of Pride Action Tank. Carney’s work has been recognized with multiple After Dark Awards, the GLSEN Pathfinder Award, an APA Presidential Citation, induction in Chicago’s Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, a Rockefeller Foundation MAP Grant and a GLAAD Media Award nomination. She has a MFA in theatre arts from Virginia Tech with a focus on directing and public dialogue and a BA from Kalamazoo College where her ideas about art as a tool for social justice and activism began to take shape.

Rebecca Clark, CEO & President, Anixter Center

Rebecca Clark is CEO & President of Anixter Center, one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the Chicago area serving people of all ages with disabilities. Rebecca first joined Anixter Center in 2015 as the vice president of program development, innovation and accountability.

Rebecca is particularly focused on preparing Anixter Center for continued success in the future with an emphasis on financial stability, program excellence and accountability so that every person served is able to soar to their highest potential. As the organization streamlines its operations to ensure efficiency, her strategic and analytical leadership will make sure that Anixter Center is well-positioned to celebrate its first 100 years of helping others in 2019 and begin its next 100 years of service.

Early in her career, Rebecca served as the director of school support for Chicago Public Schools for more than 10 years. During that time she directed a team of 45 staff to provide services to CPS students. More recently she was the partner success engineer for TeachMatch, a startup in Chicago. There she consulted with K-12 school districts across the country to increase efficiency and quality in hiring practices.

Rebecca has a Master of Arts in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago and a bachelors degree from Northwestern University.

Jim Dower, Executive Director & Co-Founder, Urban Initiatives

Jim Dower grew up on Chicago’s near north side. As a product of Chicago Public Schools, working to build capacity in CPS has always been a personal passion. After attending the University of Iowa and graduating with a BA in political science, he started his professional career as a substitute teacher at Cabrini-Green’s Byrd Academy.

This experience heightened his awareness in regards to the gaps that existed in urban education. In order to address the needs of the youth at Byrd Academy, Jim and co-founder Dan Isherwood (who was also teaching at Byrd) began providing a before and after school soccer program. As professional soccer coaches, they recognized the power of sports programming to address youth issues. They began the program in 2003 with donated equipment and nutritious snacks purchased out-of-pocket. This grassroots program, called Work to Play, was comprised of only two coaches, one school and twelve students and thus, founded the beginning of Urban Initiatives. Today, Urban Initiatives is serving over 17,000 children in 55 schools from 40 different Chicago communities.

Jim currently oversees the day-to-day external operations for Urban Initiatives. He is a member of Leadership Greater Chicago 2014 and a part of the Chicago Ideas Co-Op.

Matt Fitzgerald, Senior Pastor, Saint Pauls United Church of Christ

Matt Fitzgerald is the senior pastor of Saint Pauls United Church of Christ (UCC) in Chicago. Matt is an award-winning preacher, essayist and podcast host. He is a frequent contributor to the Christian Century and has written essays and criticism for Poetry Magazine, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere. A lifelong member of the UCC, Matt has taught preaching and literature at the U of C and his alma mater, Yale Divinity School. Matt and his wife Kelli live with their 3 teenagers and a pit-bull mix named Zeus. He loves local church ministry.

Erik Elias Glenn, Executive Director, Chicago Black Gay Men’s Caucus

Like many human service professionals, Erik Glenn began his career with a calling to address the daily injustices faced by racial, sexual, and gender minorities. With more than a decade in LGBT community development and HIV prevention, he is now executive director of Chicago Black Gay Men’s Caucus. There, Erik manages a portfolio that works to reduce structural barriers to health equity among Black gay, bisexual, and same gender loving men. Erik earned his masters in social work at University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration and his bachelors in narrative writing and LGBT studies from University of Michigan.

Tracie D. Hall, Director, Culture Program, The Joyce Foundation

Prior to her appointment as director of the Joyce Foundation’s Culture Program, Tracie D. Hall served as deputy commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) for the City of Chicago where she oversaw the Arts and Creative Industries Division. She has also served as vice president of strategy and organizational development at Queens Library in New York City; at Boeing Company’s Global Corporate Citizenship Division where she worked as community investment strategist and later as Chicago community investor; as assistant dean of Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science; as director of the Office for Diversity at the American Library Association; and as visiting professor at Catholic, Southern Connecticut State, and Wesleyan Universities.

Deeply invested in the intersection of arts access, literacy, youth and economic development, Tracie led the organization of the NYC Early Learning Network; developed the Seattle-based SCRIBES program, conceived and curated the NEH-funded Festival of Caribbean Literature with the Connecticut Center for the Book; served as author and principal investigator on three milestone Institute of Museum and Library Science (IMLS) initiatives; and in Chicago, has worked on several initiatives connecting art to community and workforce development.

Tracie is a Cave Canem fellow and the recipient of various awards for her writing, creative and community work. She holds degrees from the University of California, Yale University and the University of Washington.

Kris Hermanns, Special Advisor, Pride Foundation

Kris Hermanns has been working for more than 25 years as a nonprofit executive, strategist, grantmaker, and fundraiser. Currently, Kris is serving as a special advisor to Pride Foundation, following her seven-year tenure as the CEO. As CEO and now as an advisor, this work enables Kris to bridge two of her passions—advocating for equity and justice, and the field of philanthropy. As the CEO of Pride Foundation, Kris mobilized individual and institutional resources to affect real change in the lives of people and communities who are most impacted by injustices, including through centering and embedding racial equity into the foundation’s mission, programs, and practices.

Before joining Pride Foundation, Kris was the deputy director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, supporting the creation of the national vision and strategy. Prior to that, she was a program officer at The Rhode Island Foundation, where she helped lead the restructuring of the community grants program to facilitate more strategic investments across sectors and issue areas. She began her career at Brown University’s Center for Public Service.

She has an EdM in administration, planning, and social policy from Harvard University and a BA in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Grace Hou, President, Woods Fund Chicago

Grace Hou is the president of Woods Fund Chicago. Grace’s career has been devoted to social justice, equity, and systems change as a community-informed leader working in government, social services, organizing, advocacy, and philanthropy.

From 2003 to 2012, Grace served as the Assistant Secretary at the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). During her time with the state, she was a key leader in the creation and implementation of the state’s nationally acclaimed Immigrant Integration New American’s Executive Order. Prior to her time with the state, Grace was the executive director of Chinese Mutual Aid Association (CMAA) and a vocal advocate for immigrant rights.

Grace is the board chair of The Healthy Communities Foundation and Forefront.  She also serves on the boards of Adler University, Chicago Public Media, Greater Chicago Food Depository, The Chicago Network, and Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees.  She was a 2001 Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow and a 2002 German Marshall Fellow.

Monique B. Jones, President & CEO, Evanston Community Foundation

Monique B. Jones is a visionary leader with an extensive background in mental health, youth violence prevention, philanthropy and systems change. Monique was appointed president & CEO of Evanston Community Foundation (ECF) in 2015, making her the second president since its founding in 1986 and the first African American. ECF supports local organizations in pursuing their missions through grant making, civic engagement and capacity building. Locally, Monique serves on the board of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, See Chicago Dance and Beacon Academy. Regionally, she serves on the Alliance for Illinois Community Foundations board, leading efforts to support the advocacy work of foundations. Nationally, she serves on the Community Foundations National Standards Board, assuring best practice accreditation for community foundations. Monique is a lecturer at Northwestern University, teaching Lessons in Nonprofit Management in the Kapnick School of Business Institutions. She is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and the University of Texas at Austin.

Jane Kimondo, Program Director, Crossroads Fund

Jane Kimondo, program director of Crossroads Fund, holds two master’s degrees in organizational development and human resources and a certificate in advanced study in philanthropy & nonprofit sector from Loyola University Chicago. Jane has extensive international and nonprofit experience in both Chicago and her native country, Kenya. During her 13 years at Crossroads Fund she has overseen growth in both programs and grants which have included developing and implementation of an evaluation tool specific to social change organizations, capacity building programs, and the creation of funding streams that support Chicago’s organizing community.

Frances Kunreuther, Co-director, Building Moving Project

Frances co-directs the Building Movement Project, which works to strengthen U.S. nonprofits as sites of civic engagement and social change. She is co-author of From the Ground Up: Grassroots Organizations Making Social Change (Cornell, 2006) and Working Across Generations: Defining the Future of Nonprofit Leadership (Jossey Bass, 2009).  Frances spent five years at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University. She headed the Hetrick-Martin Institute for LBGT youth, and was awarded a year-long Annie E. Casey Foundation fellowship in 1997 for this and her previous work. Over the years, Frances has worked with homeless youth and families, undocumented immigrants, crime victims, battered women, and substance users. She writes and presents frequently on issues related to nonprofits, leadership and social change.

Dorri C. McWhorter, CPA, Chief Executive Officer, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago

As the CEO of the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, Dorri McWhorter has embarked upon a journey to transform the 140-year-old social service agency to a 21st-century social enterprise. Dorri is moving the agency into the digital age by re-launching the TechGYRLS program and introducing 3D: Developing Digital Diversity, which provides web and mobile application development training to adult women. Dorri has also led the YWCA’s expansion of digital services with the launch of, and the MPWR mobile app. Dorri was included in the inaugural list of “The Blue Network,” comprised of the top 100 innovators in Chicago, by Chicago Tribune’s Blue Sky Innovation and recognized by Good City Chicago receiving its Innovative Leader Award. Dorri led the process for the YWCA to develop an exchange traded fund (ETF) for women’s empowerment ($WOMN) in partnership with Impact Shares, which is the first nonprofit investment advisor to develop an ETF product.

A proven leader in the corporate and social change sectors, Dorri prides herself on being a socially-conscious business leader throughout her career. Most recently Dorri was a partner at Crowe Horwath LLP, one of the largest accounting firms in the US. She has also held senior positions with Snap-on Incorporated and Booz Allen Hamilton. Dorri is also active in the accounting profession having served as a member of the board of directors of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and for the Illinois CPA Society. Dorri serves on the board of directors for several organizations, including The Metropolitan Club, Chicago Finance Exchange, and Chicago Child Care Society. Dorri received a bachelor of business administration degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Mary F. Morten, President, Morten Group, LLC

Mary F. Morten has over 20 years of executive leadership at nonprofits and a past mayoral appointment in city government that provides clients with a unique skill set and access to decision makers. The firm’s scope of work includes organizational development (focused on board accountability and resources acquisition), strategic alliances, succession planning and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Morten Group works with national organizations, foundations and for-profit entities. In 2018, Morten Group began its 17th year of work supporting organizations, strategic alliances and social justice movements.

Mary has served as board chair, associate director and interim executive director for the Chicago Foundation for Women, one of the world’s largest women’s foundations. She is a past director of the Office of Violence Prevention for the Chicago Department of Public Health. Prior to this position, Mary was an appointee for Mayor Richard M. Daley and served as a director/liaison for the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. An award-winning filmmaker, Mary is currently in production on a sequel to Woke Up Black, a documentary chronicling the lives of five black youth. Mary has received numerous awards for her work, most recently the 2017 Women in Film Focus award, and the 2014 YLeadership Award from the YWCA Evanston/Northshore for her work her work on racial justice and women’s empowerment. Mary holds a BA from Loyola University of Chicago, and is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits.

Marianne Philbin, Executive Director, Pierce Family Foundation

Marianne Philbin has more than 25 years of experience working with foundations and nonprofit organizations on issues related to grantmaking, evaluation and strategic planning. She is co-author with Marcia Festen of the book Level Best: How Grassroots Organizations Can Tackle Evaluation and Talk Results (Wiley Publishing, 2006) and co-author of How Effective Nonprofits Work: A Guide for Donors, Board Members and Foundation Officers (Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, 2002). In addition to Marianne’s work with foundation and nonprofit clients, she is an instructor and curriculum developer for Forefront of Chicago, where she developed and annually leads the Institute for New Grantmakers. Previously, Marianne served as development director for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which was part of Walter Annenberg’s legacy to improve public education; executive director of the Chicago Foundation for Women during its critical start-up years; and executive director of The Peace Museum. She has served on nonprofit boards ranging from Amnesty International USA to Chicago Women in Philanthropy, the Chicago Global Donors Network, and Project Exploration. She has also served for many years as a member of the Governance Committee for the Center for Victims of Torture, located in Minneapolis, MN.

Tiffany Pryor, Executive Director, Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH)

Tiffany Pryor, executive director of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH), received a BA in human services from Villanova University. She brings a wealth of knowledge from her experiences in youth development work, a trip to Cambodia, and two years in Americorps. These experiences proved fundamental to her work with under-resourced youth and resulted in the pursuit of her master’s in social work from DePaul University. During her first year at DePaul, Tiffany serviced as an intern at Alternatives, Inc. where she engaged young women in weekly social justice workshops. In the second year of her MSW program, she was introduced to ICAH as a community organizing intern. Formerly, she served as the lead organizer for healthcare and school networks in Chicago.

Claude A. Robinson Jr., Executive Vice President, External Affairs & Diversity, UCAN

Claude A. Robinson, Jr. was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. To beat the negative ills of the inner city, he attended St. Johns Northwestern Military & Naval Academy (SJNMNA) in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for most of his high school years. At SJNMNA, Claude excelled as a student athlete and leader. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater where he successfully earned a BA in psychology. Claude went on to earn a master’s in counseling at Chicago State University. His interest in sports education turned into a passion for serving youth. He currently serves as an AAU basketball coach for The Athlete Within and Kenwood Academy High School.

Claude specializes in the personal development, education and motivation of youth and children. Claude serves as the executive vice president of external affairs & diversity at UCAN. Claude’s work has yielded numerous accolades, including awards from former city of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Miss Illinois Leadership Award 2001, and WGN-TV Channel 9’s 2000 “Unsung Hero” award. In 2008 Claude led a US delegation on a four city “best practice” exchange to the United Kingdom to assist policy makers and community leaders on positive youth development.

In addition to his work with UCAN, Claude also sits on the board of directors for the Illinois Collaboration on Youth, as well as the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission. Claude has affiliations with the Chicago Community Development Advisory Council, United Church of Christ Council for Health and Human Service Ministries, Chicago Committee on Urban Opportunity, Trinity United Church of Christ, and Leadership Greater Chicago.

Zack Schrantz, President and CEO, UCAN

Since joining UCAN in 1990 as a caseworker in Relative Foster Care, President/CEO Zack Schrantz has successfully managed increasingly responsible management and policymaking roles at UCAN which have spanned across broad areas of the agency including youth and family programming, administrative and operational functions, and fiscal management.

Highlights of Zack’s tenure at UCAN include: leading significant revenue growth and enhancement of accounting systems and internal controls; creation and implementation of programmatic dashboards to effectively measure service delivery, outcomes and impact; creation and implementation of agency client information software and quality improvement systems; development of the agency’s highly respected Teen Parenting Service Network, the largest child welfare managed care contract in Illinois, serving all pregnant and parenting teen and young adult parents in foster care throughout the state and their children; as well as development of programming and curricula focused on youth leadership to assure that the agency’s vision is achieved.

In addition, Zack is a staunch advocate of UCAN’s comprehensive diversity and inclusion efforts, striving to set a standard for the nonprofit industry around diversity, while concurrently ensuring that diversity and inclusion remains a cornerstone of agency operations. This includes implementation of UCAN’s minority supplier diversity initiative as well as ensuring that leadership development opportunities are available for the agency’s diverse employee base through its nine staff-led employee resource groups.

Rusty Stahl, President & CEO, Fund the People

Fund the People, a national campaign to maximize investment in the nonprofit workforce, works to address a chronic problem that many funders and nonprofits barely recognize as an issue — the system-wide deficit of investment in the nonprofit workforce. Through his leadership, Fund the People has established the “Talent-Investing Framework,” an approach to fundraising and grantmaking that acknowledges nonprofit professionals as the essential assets of nonprofit capacity, performance, impact, and sustainability. To bring this framework to life, Fund the People offers case-making resources, how-to tools, educational programs, and organizing in the field to maximize investment in the nonprofit workforce. Visit for information and resources or follow

Rusty founded Fund the People in 2014. Previously, he spent several years as a visiting fellow in residence at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, where he studied the challenges facing the nonprofit workforce. Prior to that, Rusty served for 10 years as founding executive director of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP), the association of young and new grantmakers. In that role, he provided leadership and professional development to thousands of diverse young people in the field. Rusty began his career as a program associate at the Ford Foundation where he focused on strengthening philanthropy and the nonprofit sector as a crucial part of our democracy. He holds an MA in philanthropic studies from Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, Co-director, Building Movement Project

Sean co-directs the Building Movement Project (BMP) with a special focus on BMP’s work on service and social change. Prior to joining the BMP staff, Sean spent a decade working in various roles at the Center for Community Change. At CCC, he developed training programs for grassroots leaders, worked in CCC’s communications and policy departments where he coordinated online and grassroots advocacy efforts, and lobbied on a range of issues, including immigration reform, transportation equity and anti-poverty programs. Before joining the Center, Sean worked as a policy analyst at the National Council of La Raza, where he focused on employment and income security issues. Sean holds a master’s degree in public administration from NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service and a bachelor’s degree in social work and multicultural studies from St. Olaf College in Minnesota.

Mia Vivens, Associate Director of Outreach and Engagement, About Face Theatre

Mia Vivens is a multidisciplinary artist and educator; a queer poetess/ mover/ maker originally from Columbus, Ohio. She is an alumna of Valparaiso University, having studied theater and dance. Her work centers around diversity and inclusion and the intersections of queerness and blackness. In her work for About Face Theatre as the associate director of outreach and engagement, she tours a show about gender and sexuality to local Chicagoland middle and high schools. She has also worked with many theatres in Chicago as both an actor and a director.

Young Chicago Authors

Through creative writing, Young Chicago Authors helps young people from all backgrounds to understand the importance of their own stories and those of others, so that they can pursue the path they choose and work to make their communities more just and equitable.

YCA exposes young people to hip-hop realist portraiture and teaches them how to create their own authentic narratives through a variety of arts education programs both in and out of the classroom. These programs include free Education Partnerships for qualifying Chicago schools, free weekly writing workshops and open mics for young poets, journalists, and emcees, and Louder Than A Bomb, the largest youth poetry slam in the country.

In Chicago’s contemporary landscape, there is a desperate need for a space dedicated to the voices of young people who face violence and segregation on a daily basis, a safe place that provides a platform for youth expression and celebrates the narratives of teens from every corner of the city. Young creative people need mentors to guide their writing to a level that sparks real change in themselves and their communities. YCA’s programs serve as an introduction to and immersion in a vibrant literary community that transcends cultural and socio-economic boundaries.

2017 Conference: “Focus on the Important”

Tuesday, June 6, 2017 — North Park University, Johnson Center

Why is reclaiming your purpose significant now? Constant change and disruptions have required all of us to course correct, especially in Illinois. It’s easy to forget why what we do matters. Your glass may seem half empty, but as nonprofit leaders, we know that the glass is always half full. Refocusing on our purpose as individuals, organizations and advocates does matter; it matters to our colleagues, clients and supporters. Join us as we examine how tapping into your purpose strengthens the foundation for sustainability in the midst of unprecedented distractions. It’s time to refocus on what matters and why.

Sustaining Talent Engagement to Drive Mission

What matters to employees – to keep them connected and engaged? Among other things, employees care about having the opportunity to learn and grow, to build relationships with their colleagues, to maintain work/life balance, and to be appreciated.

When we cannot control the environment outside of our workplace, we need to pay even more attention to elements we can influence. As leaders, we are responsible for creating a positive, healthy work environment. As a team, we can make it happen.

Let’s brainstorm strategies that do work for greater engagement and overall productivity. Let’s also talk about what doesn’t work. What leads to the “revolving door syndrome?” This session will involve YOU in actual problem-solving discussions. Leave with strategies to take back to your teams that will help you foster a stronger, more effective organization.

Do Funders have a “Secret Sauce”?

Why does a funder support one organization over another? What are some of the key attributes that distinguish one organization from another beyond mission, target group and geographic focus?  What is the “secret sauce” that a funder seeks?  Are there any common factors that contribute to funder decisions not to recommend or renew a grant?

Why did “that” organization get the grant when yours did not?  Go beyond the basics and consider some of the important and less tangible factors you can control that may make a difference in surviving and thriving in this uncertain environment by gaining and retaining the support of your funders (and acquiring new ones).

Come listen to a panel of foundation leaders share their observations and insights. Consider ways you might make changes within your organization and prepare differently for your next interaction with a funder.

Jacob Harold, president & CEO of GuideStar

Lisa Brown Alexander, president & CEO of Nonprofit HR

Sandra Aponte, program officer at The Chicago Community Trust

Donald A. Cooke, senior vice president for philanthropy of the McCormick Foundation

James D. Parsons, president of The Brinson Foundation

Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois

Ask a Funder gives attendees the opportunity to have conversations with program officers at Chicago area foundations on topics other than “What kinds of programs does your foundation support?” The Ask a Funder session is a prime opportunity for attendees to engage beyond their elevator pitch, and get on the funder’s radar first through relationship building. We thank the following funders for their participation:

The Brinson Foundation

The Chicago Community Trust

Chicago Foundation for Women

Community Memorial Foundation

JP Morgan Chase

Oak Park-River Forest Comunity Foundation

Springboard Foundation

Thank you to our sponsors!

2016 Conference: “Mining for Gold: Uncovering Hidden Treasures in Your Organization”

Monday, June 13, 2016 — Loews Chicago Hotel

Have you ever sat in a meeting and wished for the much-needed resources to fulfill mission more effectively? Those resources—your organization’s hidden treasures—are just waiting to be uncovered. Step into your own treasure hunt at the 17th Annual Axelson Center Symposium for Nonprofit Professionals and Volunteers.

Join us for a daylong exploration of the hidden gems within your organization. Uncover the talents of the people who surround you and connect to the latest trends in our sector to maximize those treasures. Interactive sessions will provide strategies to leverage opportunities and reinvigorate the way you look at your internal resources in order to bring your organization up to the gold standard.

Kimberly Bryant is the Founder and Executive Director of Black Girls CODE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “changing the face of technology” by introducing girls of color (ages 7-17) to the field of technology and computer science with a concentration on entrepreneurial concepts. Kimberly served as an Engineering Manager for various Fortune 100 companies such as Genentech, Merck, and Pfizer. Kimberly has helped Black Girls CODE grow from a local organization serving only the Bay Area, to an international organization with seven chapters across the U.S. and in Johannesburg, South Africa. Black Girls CODE has currently reached over 3000 students and continues to grow and thrive.

Kimberly was highlighted by Business Insider on its list of “The 25 Most Influential African Americans in Technology” and was named to The Root 100 and the Ebony Power 100 lists. Kimberly was invited to the White House as a Champion of Change for her work in tech inclusion and for her focus on bridging the digital divide for girls of color.

She has been identified as a thought leader in the area of tech inclusion and has spoken on the topic at events such as Personal Democracy Forum, TedX Kansas City, Platform Summit, Big Ideas Festival, SXSW, and many others. Kimberly was recently awarded the Toyota Standing OVation award by Oprah in San Jose.

Awards Luncheon
Share a delicious lunch with colleagues and be the first to hear the announcement of the 2016 winners of the Alford-Axelson Award for Nonprofit Managerial Excellence and the Excellent Emerging Organization Award.

Collaborative Networking
This year we are offering more opportunities than ever to network with other nonprofit professionals.  We are hosting a first-time attendee breakfast, and a BootCamp Alumni breakfast. Engage with colleagues as you put your heads together to tackle tough questions and find solutions in unexpected places.

Make Your Pitch
Listen in as local nonprofits make their case to a panel of judges, then cast your vote in support of the best pitch. The winning organization receives a $1,000 cash prize.

Visit the Resource Center
Connect with nonprofit vendors offering services such as banking and financial management; design and printing; technology and database products; fundraising solutions, executive search and other consulting services; as well as local groups serving as capacity-building resources for your organization.

Mining for Innovation
Sessions include discussions on social enterprises, using apps and technology to engage your constituents, and why prioritizing diversity builds a stronger organization.

Mining for Money
This track is all about fundraising! We have sessions discussing current giving trends, the role of young philanthropists in the nonprofit sector, and the importance of being intentional in donor selection.

Mining for Talent
Search within your organization to bring out the best. Find new ways to maximize employee talents, grow the next generation of leaders and boost productivity by boosting employee satisfaction.

Mining Your Niche
In the crowded nonprofit landscape, finding your niche is imperative. Learn how to mine your niche through data analysis, entrepreneurial thinking, and developing a strong brand reputation and promise.

2015 Conference

Everyday Decisiveness: Decision-Making for Organizational Excellence

Nick Tasler

Sponsored by BMO Harris Bank

If we are to successfully innovate, disrupt the norm and be change agents for our communities, we must move ourselves and our organizations forward with every decision, every day. How do we attain that level of strategic decisiveness and apply it universally to our work? Lofty visions and big goals are important, but they only take you so far in advancing your mission. Nick Tasler, internationally acclaimed author of Why Quitters Win and The Impulse Factor and creator of the Think Strategically & Act Decisively team learning system, will share a simple 3-part framework for driving change on the daily decision-making level, and will help you pull yourself “out of the weeds” by learning why producing volume is not the same as pursuing excellence. Nick’s powerful presentation will equip you to overcome all types of challenges with future-focused thinking and decisive action, resulting in a renewed sense of professional purpose and greater personal and organizational effectiveness from the inside out.

About Nick Tasler: Nick is an internationally acclaimed author and creator of the Think Strategically & Act Decisively team learning system. His behavior change firm, Decision Pulse, has improved the strategic focus and team alignment at the world’s top companies ranging from Microsoft and General Electric to Wells Fargo, Symantec, and many more. His books have been translated into multiple foreign languages and are currently sold in more than 30 countries. Nick is also a management columnist for the Harvard Business Review, and the Strategic Thinking blogger for Psychology Today, as well as a frequent guest lecturer at the Wharton School of Business.

Awards Luncheon
We shared a delicious lunch with colleagues and were the first to hear the announcement of the 2015 winners of the Alford-Axelson Award for Nonprofit Managerial Excellence and the Excellent Emerging Organization Award. The luncheon was be emceed by Joshua Hale, President and CEO of the Big Shoulders Fund.

Collaborative Networking
Not your ordinary networking opportunity! Engage with colleagues as you put your heads together to tackle some of the tough questions and find solutions in unexpected places. Sponsored by IFF.

Make Your Pitch
Local nonprofits made their case to a panel of judges, and then votes were cast. The winning organization received a $1,000 cash prize sponsored by Urban Partnership Bank.

Track: Communicate Your Story

Cultivating Your Best Advocate

Speaker: Judith Gethner, Executive Director, Illinois Partners for Human Service

Word-of-mouth marketing is the most powerful kind of promotion: in addition to fundraising, it can raise awareness of your mission and work, open the door for new partnerships and bring in additional resources. With the right strategy, your organization can implement word-of-mouth with maximum return on investment. In this session we’ll use interactive exercises to help you identify who you want to reach with your story and what you’re trying to achieve with that message. Then we’ll discuss who the best stakeholders are to deploy for this kind of work and how to determine what the specific messages should be.


Moving from Program Thinking to Systems Thinking and High-Impact Leadership

Speaker: Polina Makievsky, Senior Vice President, Knowledge, Leadership & Innovation, Alliance for Strong Families & Communities

Nonprofit stakeholders want to see meaningful social impact; unfortunately, good intentions do not guarantee organizational success. Our operating environment and the problems we seek to address are complex and require systems leadership that envision organizations not as a stand-alone force for good, but rather a critical contributor to collective systems for change. This presentation will include an introduction to the Commitments of High Impact Nonprofit Organizations: a framework that identifies the leadership qualities, strategic competencies and organizational values that produce durable, meaningful impact. The session will zero in on four commitments that speak to the capacities that help organizations move beyond program thinking to systems thinking, including: “Leading with Vision,” “Partnering with Purpose,” “Co-Creating with Community” and “Engaging all Voices.” Participants will have the opportunity to examine:

  • why traditional approaches to social change have failed;
  • the characteristics of systems thinking;
  • case studies of organizations that are putting the Commitments Competencies to work.


Your Business Strategy Plan: Collaboration for Program and Bottom-Line Impact

Speakers: Brooke Wiseman, CEO and Erin Kerr, Director of Development, both of Blessings in a Backpack; Paula A. Sneed, Chairman and CEO, Phelps Prescott Group

Strategy plans are a valuable tool for strengthening your programs, services and your bottom line. Once the plan has been created, staff and board leadership must work together to implement the plan successfully.

In this session we’ll explore:

  • How the Senior Leadership team can articulate the strategic direction for the organization.
  • The valuable role members of the board of directors can play in facilitating parts of the plan.
  • How development and marketing can work together to deliver a seamless operational product.
  • Mastering the “how” and “why” of telling your organization’s story.
  • Effective strategies for engaging members and/or clients to communicate the organization’s story.

Track: Your Leadership: Your Impact

Shake it Up: Responding Proactively to Environmental Changes

Speaker: Maria Kim, President & CEO, The Cara Program

Change is inevitable, and successful nonprofits must have the foresight to anticipate external changes and respond swiftly with adjustments and internal changes that facilitate an effective position in the new environment. This session takes an up close and personal look at The Cara Program’s assessment of anticipated environmental changes and the decision-making strategies used in the restructuring process. Maria Kim, President & CEO of The Cara Program, will lead a conversation about organizational change that tackles the following topics:

  • When to crowdsource for a decision or simply execute;
  • Communication strategies for staff when disseminating information about changes;
  • (Re)building trust after a shock to your organization’s system;
  • Achieving the new normal and the new you.


Putting the Wheels in Motion: Success Strategies for Moving Your Organization Ahead

Speaker: Jaime Guzman, Executive Director, Chicago, Taproot Foundation

It’s a perpetual problem at nonprofits: too much work and not enough hands to do it. This session will help you maximize your team’s contributions and contribute to successful project completions. Using a self-assessment activity, together we’ll identify issues, or “pain points,” in your organization and learn how to scope projects. Then we’ll explore the discovery, direction and delivery of project planning and management. Session participants will walk away equipped to build strong role definitions and project timelines, and to build consensus on the future direction of their organization.


Harnessing Your Influence: Your Voice in Your Organization

Speakers: Ellen Romberg, Partner, Battalia Winston, Executive Search and Phyllis D. Hayes, HR Business Partner, Museum of Science and Industry

Regardless of your position in your organization, your voice can (and should) be heard! How can you speak up and speak out with both maximum respect and maximum impact for your organization? There are two key elements to consider—organizational structure and your personal communication style and skills—and we’ll cover both of them in this session. Ellen Romberg will help you examine your current role and where you want to be, understand your organizational structure and culture and to identify ways to offer your perspective effectively and respectfully and identify resources to support your goals. Phyllis Hayes will highlight the complementary and critical component of the awareness of your personal power, and using yourself as an instrument. This has an impact on all interpersonal communications including relationship building, negotiation and influence.


Track: Accountability & Integrity

To Tweet or Not to Tweet: The Ethics of Managing Your Dual Roles on Social Media

Speaker: Keidra Chaney, Founder of The Learned Fangirl and Contributing Editor of JSTOR Daily

When an employee speaks on social media, do they speak for themselves or for the organization? We’ll tackle this challenging topic with the help of Keidra Chaney, Co-Founder of The Learned Fangirl. Issues to be discussed include social media branding for your nonprofit; best practices in social media policies; when it is important to keep your personal brand separate from your organizational brand online and determining when it is most productive to align them.


Creating Your Niche: Differentiate for Success

Speaker: Gretchen Slusser, Executive Director, Cabrini Green Legal Aid

Finding your organization’s “sweet spot” in the competitive nonprofit landscape is a challenging undertaking. Three years ago, Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA) implemented a strategic plan that focused on positioning the organization as one of the top three in its service area. This ambitious approach resulted in major growth in individual giving and foundation support, a 28% budget increase and doubled staff capacity. CGLA Executive Director Gretchen Slusser will discuss the process of differentiating your services, focusing on what you do best—both from internal and external stakeholder perspectives, common challenges during this process and how to overcome them, and realistic timelines and expectations for completion.


Breaking Down Organizational Silos

Speakers: Susie Quern Pratt and Jenny Ellis Richards, Principals, Pratt Richards Group

Program evaluation is often the moment in which the different branches of organizational work go head-to-head: development staff feel acutely the demands of funders, executive staff feel the pressure of their board and program staff are plagued by a lack of time. In short, no one is happy. Using a cross-organizational team model, we’ll institute a new kind of agency conversation focused on organizational learning. Specifically, this session will address:

  • the role of the Evaluation Working Group (or other cross-organizational teams) in effectively moving work forward;
  • the power of a Theory of Change in creating a common narrative for organizational work;
  • the importance of regular reflective conversation for all levels of staff.

Participants will leave with a better understanding of how to create the conditions for comprehensive organizational conversation and change, and some tools for getting this conversation started at their own organization.


Track: Resource Generation

When Is It OK To Say “No” To A Donor?

Speaker: Gwen Perry Davis, Deputy Director of Development, Museum of Contemporary Art

Saying “no” in life can be terrifying, especially when it means refusing a donor’s offer. However, sometimes “no” is the best answer for the organization’s short or long-term interests! How can you successfully navigate this challenging situation? We’ll cover how to work with your board and leadership to create processes for accepting gifts, how to effectively communicate your organization’s needs to donors and how to maintain a relationship with a donor if you decline a gift.


Increasing Your ROI: Recurring Gifts

Speakers: Betsy Harman, Manager, Donor Cultivation, and Aaron LaMonica Weier, Manager of Digital Engagement-Cultivation, both of Feeding America; Kim Luckey, Vice President of Development, Lawrence Hall Youth Services

A monthly giving program can provide a regular, dependable income stream and a pipeline to major gifts for your organization: data shows the annual retention rates for recurring donors is about 73% higher than for single gift donors and revenue per donor is 70% higher for donors who make recurring gifts! In the case of Lawrence Hall Youth Services, a Sustaining Gift Program is one way to ensure a steady, predictable cash flow. This method of continuous giving also benefits donors, streamlining the donation process and, as the organization has discovered, these types of donors are able to give more annually, resulting in greater overall impact. Join us for this lively discussion to learn about recruiting, keeping, upgrading, and reinstating monthly givers; why your organization should consider focusing on monthly giving; successful online and offline tactics to grow your monthly donor file; and how to make the case for investing in this type of fundraising. The helpful resources presented will enable you to begin a new program or improve your existing efforts with this increasingly important fundraising method.


Selling Your Impact: Data, Donors and Dollars

Speaker: Sophie Walker, Engagement Manager, Mission Measurement

What is your organization’s value proposition to funders, and how do you tell a data-driven story about your impact? In this hands-on session, learn how measurement in the social sector is evolving, and how this will impact your organization. Then we’ll help you identify priority outcomes and measure your progress in ways that are concrete, meaningful and demonstrate your impact to funders.


Track: C-Suite

A special opportunity for C-Suite leadership to tackle topics such as effective engagement across generations, research-based trends, and connecting with experts about impact investing. C-Suite sessions will take place in the afternoon, and leaders can register for the entire Symposium day or just for the luncheon and C-Suite sessions.

Working and Leading Together: Strategies for Cross-Generational Development and Collaboration

Speakers: Richard A. Brown, Vice President, American Express Philanthropy and Trish Tchume, National Director, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN)

Research tells us that successful leadership development requires a framework that emphasizes key areas including access to strong and vibrant professional networks and growth of emotional intelligence. Learn more about this framework from Trish Tchume, Director of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, and then hear from Richard Brown, Vice President of American Express Philanthropy, how this concept has been successfully applied in early career leadership programs. A moderated Q&A session will follow the presentation, and will highlight what your organizations are doing to support emerging leadership; what the emerging generations need to learn to be effective change agents in the nonprofit sector; and what we can do in our own organizations to embrace and leverage intergenerational diversity.


Panel Discussion: Impact Investing

Panelists: Clare Golla, Financial Advisor & Vice President, Bernstein Global Wealth Management; Tom Trinley, Director-Finance & Administration, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation; Daniel Nielsen, Director-Socially Responsible Investing, Christian Brothers Investment Services Inc.

Moderator: Pam Schilling, Associate Professor, Finance & Strategy, School of Business & Nonprofit Management, North Park University

A panel of funders and investors come together to discuss the latest developments and trends in impact investing and its potential to influence your nonprofit. Topics to be tackled include the role of C-Suite staff and board members in the investment process and the various strategies that enable investors to increase the impact of their investments beyond financial return. Attendees will also hear examples of impact investments, how these investments were evaluated and how impact was measured. The panel presentation will be followed by a Q&A to share additional thoughts and questions on topics like risk tolerance, the process of choosing strategic investments, fiduciary responsibility and the internal resources required to make worthwhile investments.