Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management
2019 Symposium

The Arc of Innovation: Timeless Lessons from Thriving Nonprofits

May 2, 2019
Hyatt Regency O’Hare

Keynote Speaker-
Vu Le- author of the blog
“Nonprofit AF”
The Axelson Center provides custom training for organizations seeking to address challenges and build staff performance and skills. Reach out to us with your professional development goals, and we will develop a training built just for your organization!


August 7 – 9, 2019 at
North Park University

Participate in three eye-opening days of professional growth led by accomplished experts to enhance your skills, network with colleagues, develop your “personal board of directors” and create a 90-day action plan. Application available on our website in early 2019.


Five Resolutions to Help Your Nonprofit
Kick Off the New Year
New Year’s resolutions aren’t just for those who want to exercise more or kick a bad habit. As we welcome in a new year, nonprofits should consider their own resolutions. It’s a great way to motivate staff, improve inter-office communication, or help streamline workflow. Here are five of the Axelson Center’s new year’s resolutions for your nonprofit this year:

1. Make a professional development plan for your staff

Most often, staff development gets moved to the bottom of the organizational priority list. There are bills to pay (training is too expensive) and programs to run (nobody has time for training). But successful organizations know that, in the long run, investing in people can save money and time all while moving the mission forward.

"...successful organizations know that, in the long run, investing in people can save money and time all while moving the mission forward."
via @AxelsonCenter


This year, make professional development a priority: create a professional development calendar and ask staff members to consider what they want to learn, encouraging them to research professional development opportunities. Then, put them on the calendar and in the budget.

If budget is an issue, consider whether there is a staff member who can share skills in-house. Providing leadership development opportunities in-house by giving staff members the opportunity to train others, run weekly staff meetings or inviting them to participate on a sub-committee with the board may be the professional development opportunity a member of your staff could benefit from. Do you collaborate with an organization who excels at a skill your organization needs to do better? Consider a skills swap and trade “experts” for a few hours. Sometimes, staff-wide training can be more economical than individual training. Hire a consultant/trainer to deliver organization-wide training such as customer service, goal-setting or project management. Finally, free or low-cost webinars cover many nonprofit management topics from fundraising to event planning to financial management.

Encourage staff to make a habit of seeking and identifying professional development opportunities throughout the year so that making time to learn becomes an ongoing habit.


2. Celebrate your team

Unfortunately, staff turnover at nonprofits can be a real problem. Celebrating your team’s success promotes staff morale and has the long-term benefit of boosting staff retention. Plus, being recognized and celebrated by peers is great for self-esteem. This year, add staff celebrations and employee recognitions to your organizational calendar.

Celebrate team and individual goals met – and don’t wait too long! Lunch out is always a celebratory treat. However, if that’s not in the budget or if your staff is too large, throw a potluck party. Celebrations don’t always have to be food-related either. Have a colleague who finished their first marathon? Decorate their office space. Tweet staff successes or share in a newsletter. Sometimes, just allowing time to talk about a co-worker’s success is celebration enough.

3. Develop an editorial calendar

If you haven’t been using Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to market your organization’s events and programs consistently, 2019 is the year to get organized. An editorial calendar is a planning document that helps structure and systemize your social media marketing efforts. There are many free versions available on line. Calendars vary in detail but will include columns for basic information such as topic, date, platform and person responsible. As you develop your calendar, take time to define the audience you want to target via your social media posts. Update your calendar frequently – if it’s on a calendar, it’s more likely to get done. The goal is to improve consistency.

Using a social media manager like Hootsuite, Buffer or SocialBee saves time as it automates your social media posts across many different platforms. You provide the content while your social media manager does the tedious work of posting regularly for you. Bonus – some social media managers are free or low cost. Social media managers will also track audience engagement. Learn to use analytics so that you can measure the impact of your posts to social media.

4. Thank your donors

Most likely, your organization already has systems in place to thank donors – letters are sent, and calls are made. But do you have a plan in place to thank your donors in a timely manner? Is there an organizational policy to thank donors within a certain timeframe? If not, take the time to develop a thank you policy for 2019. How soon after your organization receives a donation should the donor receive a thank you?

Consider sending a thank you that is more memorable than a form letter on organization letterhead. Start 2019 by printing out a stack of thank you notes for hand-written letters to donors. Or, better yet, print post cards with a photo of your mission in action. Companies like Vistaprint make printing personalized cards affordable and easy. Use your social media platforms to thank a donor on a regular basis (be sure to add this to your social media plan—above).

5. Create a self-care plan

For the upcoming year, take some time to determine what your “hot buttons” are, and how you can de-stress. What do you enjoy that offers balance in your life? What are some strategies you will commit to on a daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly basis that will help you bring your full self to your professional role? Make a plan and stick with it. When you deviate from your plan (as will happen – we’re only human), accept it, recommit and reschedule. Taking care of yourself will soon become a part of your schedule and will help you to work better and engage more fully with your colleagues.

We hope this list has inspired you to make a New Year’s resolution for your organization. The Axelson Center wishes you a happy and purpose-driven 2019!