By Misa Lobato, Apra President
Wow, this past year has been hard.
Just over a year ago, at the end of February 2020, I attended an in-person Apra Board meeting and met with chapter leaders gathering for the Chapter Summit and new prospect development professionals attending Apra Fundamentals: Prospect Research. At the time, we knew about the impact of COVID-19 in other countries and there had been cases identified in the U.S., but none of us could have imagined the year ahead.
So much has happened since then — to all of us, personally and professionally. It’s extraordinarily painful to think about all that’s been lost. Apra members have been furloughed and laid off, we’ve experienced salary and benefit cuts, we’ve seen budgets slashed, we’ve watched organizations struggle to survive. Some of us have been sick. We’ve had friends and family members become ill, and sometimes die. We’ve been isolated from many of our support networks. We’ve been forced to witness, over and over, violence and hatred against Black, Asian, indigenous, transgender and other marginalized communities.
This year has had a profound impact on our lives. I want to share with you how it’s impacted Apra — and how, despite the challenges we’ve faced, there is much to be proud of and look forward to.
First, the financial impact of the past year, particularly that of moving in-person events to a virtual format, has been significant. Apra has suffered losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars despite making every effort to carefully and conscientiously cut expenses and mitigate risk. We are also anticipating an operating loss in 2021. Fortunately, Apra entered 2020 with a healthy amount of reserves and we will weather this storm.
However, this forced us to reevaluate our planned activities and clarify our priorities for our final year of our 2019-2021 Strategic Plan. Our foremost concern was the health, safety and well-being of our members. This informed our decision to hold our Prospect Development conference virtually in 2020 and 2021.
We wanted to ensure that we were still upholding our educational mission and offering high quality programming. As such, we moved forward with launching a learning management system, Apra University (university.aprahome.org), which houses all of our online education, including courses such as Apra Fundamentals and an exciting new data science course that is currently in development. I can’t wait for you to see this course — it will be an incredible resource for anyone wanting to learn fundraising analytics and will further position Apra and its members as the leading authority in that field.
We also knew it was crucial to continue our industry-wide advocacy, which is focused on improving understanding of the impact of prospect development work. Fundraising leaders must understand how essential our work is in driving fundraising and facing the most urgent challenges of the day. As we surveyed the landscape of our industry, three issues kept arising that we knew Apra members were uniquely positioned to address: ethics and due diligence, data-driven decision making, and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
Data-driven decision making has always been our wheelhouse. Our profession is the source of actionable intelligence in fundraising. Our Body of Knowledge, educational programming and content through Apra University, Beyond Prospecting: The Apra Podcast, Apra Bytes, Twitter chats and the Connections website all offer language and resources to talk about how our work informs decision making. If you’re still building that understanding within your organization, look to our Advocacy Toolkit and Hey Advocacy! Podcast (found on the same page as the toolkit) for some great ideas around advocating for yourself, your team and our profession.
Last summer, we rolled out our Due Diligence Toolkit to members, which, coupled with our Ethics and Compliance Toolkit, provides an exceptional resource on best practices for fundraising organizations on navigating some of the legal and reputational risks present in current-day fundraising. We hope you’ll use these tools to guide your organization in the development of policies and procedures.
In a similar vein, this year the Ethics and Compliance Committee began work on a set of guidelines for the ethical collection, storage and use of constituent identity data. We strongly feel that the nonprofit industry must actively strive to become more diverse and inclusive, and this necessitates a thoughtful and considered approach to understanding and measuring constituent demographics. I know these guidelines will provide you with an excellent framework for navigating these conversations in your organizations. They will be released this summer — stay tuned. As you implement these guidelines, I encourage you to reference this important four-part Connections series by Kristal Enter on diversifying donor pools.
In all three of these areas — ethics and due diligence, data-driven decision making and DEI — we have focused on increasing our industry visibility. We’ve been capitalizing on opportunities to partner strategically with peer associations, including our recent collaboration with AFP and a number of other associations on a large-scale survey of DEI issues in philanthropy. We’ve worked to ensure that Apra members are quoted in articles in national publications. We’ve promoted Apra members as speakers, collaborators and thought leaders.
We know this advocacy hasn’t prevented our members from experiencing professional hardships. We will continue to develop and provide advocacy tools and support for members, such as our salary survey coming later this year and the Body of Knowledge Career Roadmap. We have changed our Career Center to require that job postings list salary ranges, which serves to improve salary transparency and pay equity. In February, the Apra Foundation made its first awards from the Professional Development Assistance Fund and in March launched a Research Pride Month fundraising campaign. This campaign exceeded its goal of $2,000 by raising $3,180. The Foundation will be accepting applications for professional development funding awards and the deadline is Friday, May 21 at 5 p.m. CDT.
We’ve also continued to focus on the Diversity and Inclusion pillar of our strategic plan. Beyond the DEI initiatives referenced above, we have developed formal processes to ensure that the board, committee chairs, committee members and conference speakers are diverse and represent historically underrepresented and marginalized communities. We added questions to our 2021 salary survey that will allow us so to measure and report on racial/ethnic wage gaps in addition to gender wage gaps. We’ve improved education accessibility through our learning management system and have implemented closed captioning for online content. Our continued work in DEI will be informed by the member identity information we started collecting in 2020, and I encourage you to provide this information in your member profile. Please be assured, this information is kept confidential and only used by key staff and select Apra leadership.
There was one noteworthy goal in our 2019-2021 strategic plan that didn’t move forward. As a result of our operating losses in 2020, we had to deprioritize our work on assessing whether Apra should offer credentialing. As we begin developing a new strategic plan this summer, we’ll be considering whether credentialing will be in our future plans. We will keep you updated as soon as those plans are formalized.
I would put myself squarely in the category of #SurvivingNotThriving, but one of the few things this past year that has given me energy and a sense of purpose is my commitment to this community. I’ve seen this reflected in our dedicated board of directors, Apra Foundation board of trustees, Apra headquarters staff and Apra committees, who exemplify servant leadership and continue to show up, day after day, in service to our association.
I hope that, in some way, Apra has been a resource to you, and that you have been comforted by the warmth of this community. I look forward to emerging from this together.
Wishing you all better days ahead,