Best of Connections 2021, Message From the Editor: Still In It

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By Jess Balsam, Apra Editorial Advisory Committee Chair

Dear Apra Community, 

Last year as I celebrated holidays and birthdays at home with just my immediate family, I snapped photos and titled the albums “Pandemic Thanksgiving,” “Pandemic Birthday” and so on. It never occurred to me that I might need “Pandemic Thanksgiving II” and “Pandemic Birthday II” albums. Likewise, many of us thought PD 2020 would be a once-in-a-lifetime virtual conference, but this summer, we found ourselves once again in a virtual space instead of in Indianapolis for PD 2021.

Now it’s January, and we’re still in it.

The pandemic is rounding out its second year, and our work continues to evolve. We’re worn out by hybrid meetings, exhausted by shifting priorities and weary of uncertainty. Yet we continue to innovate for our teams and share our expertise with each other.

To paraphrase Shola Richards from his keynote presentation at this year’s PD conference, the pandemic is a drain, but we continue to be each other’s fountains.

This brings me to the rich content in Connections this year. It’s always hard to narrow the field down to just a few “best” articles. Our committee rolled up their sleeves and dove into the digital archives nonetheless, and these are the pieces we feel best exemplify another year like no other.

The Top 5 are listed below; read on for bonus editorializing.


What better way to build the Apra community than to host a huge conversation on a topic that’s top of mind for almost all of us: return-to-office trends and feelings. Anthony Parrish did that with his survey and article “Prospect Development’s Post-Pandemic Transition.”

Bonus: Check out “Ask the Ethicist: Return to Office for more guidance around this hot topic transition. (And no, I don’t mean it’s an article about dressing in goth mall clothes when you return to the office. But I don't discourage it! #IfYouKnowYouKnow)

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

Kristal Enter’s detailed, four-part series on “How to Jumpstart Diversifying an Organization’s Donor Pool has proven immensely helpful in laying a path for this important work.

Bonuses: Take a look at this interview for more insight into the sweeping DEI Data Guide Apra released this year: “Q&A: A Closer Look at the DEI Data Guide,” by Emma Aguirre, and dive into what it means to build belonging for our colleagues who identify as LGBTQ+ in “LGBTQ+ Perspectives in Our Profession: Q&A,” an interview led by Jeff Walker, PhD.

New and Now

David Lively and Erin Moran are well-known for their innovations in prospect portfolios, and for good reason: there’s proof in the fundraising totals pudding. They outlined their philosophy in “Minimalistic Major Gift Portfolios: Do Your Prospects Spark Joy?” I imagine PD professionals encouraging their gift officers to thank the prospects in their portfolios, and let them go.

Bonus: For another fresh idea, check out “The Tumbleweed Approach: A Case Study on Continuous, Targeted Wealth Screening,” from Viv Chappell and Kelley Rowe.


Some topics are always relevant. We all love to share report samples — I have CD-ROMs full of them from 15 years ago, back when mailing hard discs was the best way to share information with one another. Nowadays we send screenshots, and read articles like “Impactful Data – Developing Dashboards That Both Inform and Inspire,” by Maria Wasley-Valdez, to get us started on improving and creating new dashboards.

Bonus: Alison O’Connell, Devon Rutz and Lindy Speakmanat at Lehigh University takes us through their thoughtful processes in “Building a New Portfolio Management Program: A Case Study.”

Professional Growth

Stephanie Brouwer penned “Leveraging Clifton StrengthsFinder in a Post-Pandemic World” as a timely sequel to her immensely popular StrenghsFinder article from a few years back. I’m also drawn to the optimism in the title  it assures me that someday we’ll be wearing Hot Topic to the office without having to match it to our masks.

Bonuses: Want more strengths-related content? Check out “Develop Your Superpowers: Strengths and Personal Growth by Mel Kepler. And to bring us back to my opening paragraph, click through to Karin McDowell’s advice on sharing conference learnings with your colleagues, “How to Share Ideas Without Sharing Viruses.”

Take a moment to visit or re-visit these articles from your colleagues in 2021. I’m confident you’ll be inspired for the start of the new year. And if you’re inspired to share your own idea, reach out to us at to get started.

Wishing you all more fountains than drains (and a sweet new band t-shirt from the mall) in 2022.

Jessica Balsam

Top Articles of 2021

  1.  Prospect Development’s Post-Pandemic Transition by Anthony Parrish
  2.  How to Jumpstart Diversifying an Organization’s Donor Pool (Parts 1 – 4) by Kristal Enter
  3.  Minimalistic Major Gift Portfolios: Do Your Prospects Spark Joy? by David Lively and Erin Moran
  4.  Impactful Data – Developing Dashboards That Both Inform and Inspire by Maria K. Wasley-Valdez
  5.  Leveraging Clifton StrengthsFinder in a Post-Pandemic World by Stephanie Brouwer
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