Seasons of Apra to Look Forward To


By Melissa Bank Stepno

I’m sure that each of you has a favorite season. For me, fall has always been my favorite time of year. 

As a child, each September I looked forward to the beginning of the school year. As September turned to October, the crispness in the air felt refreshing. As October deepened, I always looked forward to the changing colors of the leaves — even after living in New England for the entirety of my adult life.

For the past five years, fall has also marked the beginning of each of my years serving on Apra’s Board of Directors. This year, of course, is the most special as I am honored and humbled to serve as Apra’s president. This year is also special because the summer of 2022 will mark my 20th year as an Apra member. 

With this as my first Apra president’s message, conveniently timed to coincide with fall, I offer four seasons of things I am looking forward to during my presidential year.


Did you know that October is Ethics Awareness Month? Earlier this year, Apra’s Ethics and Compliance Committee published a new DEI Data Guide. The Guide’s purpose is to serve as a resource for best practices in the ethical collection, storage and usage of DEI data. Apra hosted a webinar to promote the DEI Data Guide (you can access the recording here) and will host a live premier webinar on data privacy and ethics on November 16 (register for the live event here). The importance of these efforts cannot be understated, especially as our community lives, breathes and thrives on using data to advance philanthropy.

I am particularly proud of the DEI Data Guide as it serves as a launchpad that helps elevate Apra as the leader in assuring the proper collection, use and protection of donor data across the entire philanthropic sector. In fact, the guide is being promoted in efforts partnering with AFP, CASE, aasp, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy, just to name a few.


A time of year that many of us, particularly those in the Northern states or Canada, hunker down for a long haul. This winter, the Apra Board will immerse itself in strategic planning efforts that will drive our association forward for the next three years. Having helped create our current 2019-2021 Strategic Plan, I am looking forward to the “hunkering down” that we will need to do to create our next plan. 

During the last planning process, we developed the mantra of BONDCO to guide our thinking, which stands for Bold, Opportunistic, Nimble, Decisive, Creative and Open-Minded. BONDCO served us well as we successfully advanced many of our strategic objectives, despite the challenges of the last 18+ months.

Given that our key focus areas of diversity, equity and inclusion, data-driven decision making, and data science are all the hot button topics in our industry right now, I suspect that our North Stars are not going to dramatically change in our next plan — rather, we may identify ways to lean in further.


The season of new beginnings, blooming flowers and a return to feeling the warmth of the sun. This spring, Apra will be working on its migration to a new association management system (AMS), with a goal of completing the project in the late spring/early summer. Think of the AMS platform as a combination of Apra’s CRM system and website rolled into one.

The AMS will provide a fresh opportunity for Apra to realign and streamline many of the back-end processes and systems that members might not be aware of, but that help Apra serve its community better. Combined with this year’s launch of a new learning management system (LMS) to house Apra University content, what you will see is a new, fresh and modern interface for interacting with Apra online.


For the past two decades, each year I have looked forward to attending Apra’s Prospect Development conference. Affectionately known as PD, this is the largest annual gathering of Prospect Development professionals in the world. Yes, the world — we typically have representation from five to six countries. 

Of course, the 2020 and 2021 conferences were moved to virtual events to accommodate COVID travel restrictions but it didn’t diminish the educational quality or networking opportunities of the conference. That said, I am looking forward to gathering again, in person, from Tuesday, July 26 to Friday, July 29, 2022, in Atlanta.

The Apra staff is busy assuring that we will have a safe and healthy gathering while also providing some remote options for those who are unable to attend in person. Over the coming months, the Prospect Development 2022 website will be updated with additional content and details. More urgently, the call for speakers is open through November 12 and I encourage you to submit a session proposal to share your expertise with the community. 

The past six seasons have been challenging for all of us, personally and professionally. And while the road might still be uncertain, I am excited about Apra’s next four seasons and beyond.

Our future is incredibly bright. Apra is fortunate to have a dedicated Board of Directors, committed staff, passionate volunteers and loyal members. To end where I started, I am both honored and humbled to share my 20th year of membership with all of you, in service as your president.

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