Best of Connections 2020 Editor's Message: A Year Like No Other

By Jessica Balsam, senior director, prospect development, University of Washington; Apra Editorial Advisory Committee Chair

Dear Apra community,

I’ll come right out and say it: last year was difficult beyond words.

With COVID-19 working its way through our communities, Apra members were quickly asked to transition to new ways of partnering with our frontline fundraisers. Conversations on race in fundraising were moved to the front burner with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and some of us were asked to serve in new ways to help our workplaces navigate these conversations. Many of us were asked to cut budgets amidst economic uncertainty. Some of us were furloughed or even laid off, all while worrying for the health of ourselves and our families.

It is with this backdrop that I present our annual Best of Connections issue. As this year’s editorial chair, I get the very fun task, along with my Editorial Advisory Committee, of curating this year’s best Connections features. It was difficult because you, the Apra community, stepped up in big ways this year.

Amidst it all, you still found time to put pen to paper, fingers to keyboards, and produced thoughtful pieces in Connections to guide each other’s professional growth. Uncertain times call for community, and you all were there for each other this past year.

Linked below are the top Connections pieces from 2020.  But there were so many great articles from the last year, I can’t stop myself from recommending bonus reading as well. What will you find?

Direct advice for our turbulent era. How do we draw on our strengths to thrive in these times? Natalie Spring and Sarah Mine from Duke University share their experience managing a large shop in difficult times, and industry veteran Karen Greene draws from her years of experience to remind us of our strengths.

  • Bonus reading: Jeanne Sharp’s interview with fundraiser Tilghman Moyer on learning from challenging campaigns of the past. Read it online here.

Deep dives into trends. International fundraising and prospect pipelines are hot topics at many of our shops. John Hermans at the University of Toronto walks us through philanthropy in Canada, while Jacob Astley from Oklahoma State shares a case study of identifying new prospects using social media.

  • Bonus reading: Andrea Topham’s call to action to tell strength-based narratives about the communities we serve. In her words, “The person who has lived the story owns the story.” Read it online here.

Innovative thinking. Unusual times call for new ideas. The development team at the University of Missouri takes us through rethinking your affinity score.

  • Bonus reading: The Ohio State University’s approach to reinventing campaign gift tables (online here), plus Mount Sinai Health System’s major pivot in communication strategy as they leaned into the COVID-19 pandemic (online here).

If you missed some of these articles the first time around, I hope you enjoy discovering what your colleagues have shared. And even if you’ve read them all before, I’m confident you’ll see something new when you re-read.

I invite you to consider sharing your own content in the coming year. Do you have a case study, a new idea, a how-to? Chances are your Apra colleagues will find it helpful. Reach out to us at to share your ideas.

The future is hard to plan for. So much of our work will be permanently changed by what we’ve collectively experienced in 2020. One thing is for certain, though: the Apra community will continue to innovate, evolve and share generously in the virtual pages of Connections. For that I am grateful.

Wishing you all health and moments of respite in 2021.

Jessica Balsam

Top Articles of 2020
  1. Goals, Growth and Games: Managing a Large Shop in Difficult Times by Sarah Mine and Natalie Spring

  2. Discovering New Prospects Using a Social Media-Driven Approach by Jacob Astley

  3. Northern Lights: Philanthropic Trends in Canada by John Hermans

  4. Predictive Modeling Case Study: From Theory to Application by Brian Robertson, Matt Moran and Dr. Lori Thombs

  5. Advice for Prospect Development in the Face of Economic Uncertainty by Karen L. Greene

Statement From the Apra Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee


Apra aspires to be an active participant in the creation of a more just and inclusive world through philanthropy. We believe that philanthropy is a vital means through which we connect to our shared humanity, and that the core competencies of Apra members will be essential in guiding and supporting the nonprofit sector's work in diversity, equity and inclusion. Apra is committed to ensuring that our association lives the values of diversity, equity and inclusion espoused in our Diversity and Inclusion Statement of Principles and delivers on the objectives set forward in the Diversity and Inclusion pillar of our 2019-2021 Strategic Plan.

Guiding Principles for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Work in Apra

  • Apra will ensure our governance and volunteer structures are diverse, and will elevate the voices of members from historically excluded and marginalized communities.
  • Apra will communicate our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion to our members, and will encourage members to develop intercultural competence.
  • Apra will survey and measure the demographics of our membership to inform our work in diversity, equity and inclusion; considering membership demographics in setting goals for representation, accessibility and diversification.
  • Apra will ensure that speakers in our educational content hail from diverse backgrounds.
  • Apra will engage in intentional and conscientious inclusivity practices at our events and with our online content.
  • Apra will address the critical lack of diversity and equity within the philanthropic sector by seeking opportunities to diversify the prospect development profession.
  • Apra will measure gender and racial wage gaps in our profession and promote pay equity.
  • Apra will provide a forum for and educational content on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion within prospect development and the broader philanthropic sector.
  • Apra will address accessibility issues at in-person and online events in accordance with the needs of our membership.
  • Apra will create and promote guidelines on the collection, storage and use of nonprofit constituent identity data to guide the nonprofit sector to an ethical practice around using these data.
  • Apra will develop and promote thought leadership on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in philanthropy.
  • Apra will seek opportunities to support and amplify the diversity, equity and inclusion work taking place at our peer associations, and will partner with peer associations on DEI initiatives.


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