AFP News

Ohio Fundraiser, Ryan Zapolski, Honored as AFP Outstanding Young Professional

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Ryan Zapolski

Natalie Paskoski, Manager of Content, (434) 236 – 5583,

(Arlington, Virginia) Ryan Zapolski, CFRE, senior manager, development at New York-based nonprofit, Smile Train, Inc., has been recognized as one of four Outstanding Young Professionals by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). The award will be presented in Toronto on April 7 during AFP ICON 2024, the largest gathering of fundraising professionals in the world.

The award recognizes fundraisers under the age of 31 who display excellence in raising funds, inspiring donors, and managing campaigns, while demonstrating dedication to the charitable sector.

“Winning this award is a tremendous honor. I have had many mentors who have guided me along the journey, and I am incredibly thankful for their steadfast support,” said Zapolski. “Fundraisers never work alone, and I am grateful to work with so many colleagues who give me a story to communicate with generous philanthropists.”

In 2018, Zapolski began his development career as a gift officer at New England College. There his pioneering efforts were instrumental in establishing the school’s major gifts program, which he worked on in addition to planning signature events such as the alumni awards dinner, reunion weekend, and private dinners with the board chair.

Upon transitioning to the University of Bridgeport in 2019, Ryan spearheaded the university’s annual giving program. Through direct-mail and email schedules, social media fundraising, and tailored giving campaigns for each athletic team, the University saw record-setting annual fundraising results.

Amid the challenges of the pandemic, in 2021, Ryan moved to Ohio, taking on the role of assistant director of alumni relations and annual giving at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. Here, he revitalized a direct-mail program and captured powerful student stories that empowered alumni support on the annual Day of Giving.

In his current role as senior manager, development at Smile Train, a nonprofit dedicated to comprehensive cleft care, Ryan oversees the mid-level giving and stewardship team. His expertise in donor research has led to numerous major gifts, including a million-dollar donation.

“On behalf of everyone at AFP, I want to offer my congratulations to Ryan Zapolski, one of our amazing Outstanding Young Professionals this year,” said Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA, president and CEO of AFP. “Already Ryan has created a lasting legacy of impact with the establishment of new annual giving and major gifts programs at the educational institutions where he began his career. This initiative, in combination with the leadership he has demonstrated in his current role, make him an excellent candidate for this award, and one that we can’t wait to recognize this year in Toronto.

In addition to being a 2024 award recipient, Zapolski is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the AFP Greater Cleveland Chapter. He is an active mentor to new fundraising professionals and recently earned his CFRE certification.

For more information about this award and AFP ICON, please contact Natalie Paskoski at (434)-236-5583 or 

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Since 1960, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) has been the standard-bearer for professionalism in fundraising. The association works to advance effective and ethical philanthropy by providing advocacy, research, education, mentoring, collaboration and technology opportunities for the world’s largest network of professional fundraisers. AFP’s more than 26,000 members in over 220 chapters raise over $100 billion annually for a wide variety of charitable organizations and causes across the globe. For more information, go to 

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