The Thrill of Being Together Again


By Melissa Bank Stepno

In early May, I ventured out on my first business trip since COVID-19. After spending 15 years as a road warrior, I have been grounded for the past two years, like so many others. Knowing this day would come, I spent time wondering: Would I be comfortable? Would I like to travel again or would I want to crawl back into my cocoon?

The trip was to attend AFP ICON, the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ annual conference — held in-person for the first time since 2019. Not only was it my first business trip, but I was joining thousands of colleagues at an incredibly large conference. This was not going to be a slow transition! I was hitting the road in full force.

After being separated from large crowds for so long, I had a bit of trepidation about being close to so many. I also remembered how tiring conferences are, particularly when you are out of practice. While I came home more tired than ever, attending AFP ICON was also one of the most energizing things I have done since 2019. Nothing beats the ability to network in-person and engage with people who, like me and like the Apra Community, have dedicated their careers to serving the non-profit industry.

Through natural interactions, AFP ICON also gave me the opportunity to evangelize on behalf of Apra by sharing our mission, work and values. My conference session, “What You Need to Know About Transformational Giving: Trends and Prospect Identification,” covered research related to major giving activities, a quick survey on trends in high-net-worth philanthropy and, of course, using data analytics and research techniques to identify an organization’s best transformational giving prospects. I even included talking points about Apra’s DEI Data Guide!

Now, this is an Apra President’s Message — why am I writing about AFP’s premier conference? There are two reasons:

First, Apra’s 2019-2021 Strategic Goals touched on four areas: Understanding of Impact, Industry Collaboration, Education and Diversity & Inclusion. (Of note, as mentioned in my last President’s message, the Board and Apra Staff are currently working on 2022-2025 Strategic Goals.) Loosely speaking, my attending and speaking at AFP ICON on topics core to Apra’s mission actually touched on all four of these goals.

I was encouraged and inspired by how many attendees at AFP ICON knew of Apra’s work and noted how they look to us as leaders in data-driven fundraising, diversity, equity and inclusion and ethical fundraising standards. These are the exact areas we have committed to becoming leaders in across the philanthropic sector. It was rewarding to see Apra’s work is paying off.

AFP ICON also reminded me how important, energizing and network-focused in-person conferences can be. As I look forward to Apra’s Prospect Development conference, July 26-29 in Atlanta, I am even more excited to see all of YOU in-person. Be sure to register today — beyond gathering in-person again, there are so many fascinating sessions you’ll be able to explore and bring back insights to your colleagues. It will be a truly refreshing experience.

One of the things I am also looking forward to is our Apra Foundation fundraiser, Apra Breathes. Led by Rodger Devine, Apra secretary, Apra Foundation trustee and yoga/meditation instructor, Apra Breathes (#ApraBreathes) will give us all an opportunity to unplug, unwind and unite through the power of breath before we dive in to the fabulous educational content planned by our Conference Planning Committee.

A donation of $10 is encouraged to join Apra Breathes and the monies raised will support the Apra Foundation Professional Development Assistance Fund. The Apra Foundation Trustees have already pledged their support by achieving a 100% donation participation rate and we just finished our second round of funding in 2022 for the Professional Development Assistance Fund.

We will have an update on this round of funding at on Tuesday, June 7 at 1 p.m. CDT. At the Business Meeting, we will also give you a deeper update on this past year’s committee activity, announce our 2022-2023 incoming board members and recognize our 2022 Award winners. Looking forward to virtually seeing you all there!

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