ADRP was founded in 2004, however, its beginnings can be traced back to the first New England Stewardship Conference (NESC) in 1990. Far fewer advancement officers were specifically involved in stewardship then, but a small group of professionals recognized the unique aspects of their work and understood its importance to the advancement of philanthropy. Pooling resources, they staged their first conference in order to share information with peers from other institutions.

The NESC was primarily focused on higher education. Organized each year by a volunteer host institution, it soon grew to attract registrants from all over the country. Since that time, thousands of donor relations professionals have maintained a strong yet informal community of practice with colleagues around the world. In the 1990s, electronic technology provided unifying channels for communication among donor relations professionals.

A significant turning point occurred in 2002 when the NESC was organized and held at a non-institutional site. This lack of sponsorship by any one institution held new legal implications. Recognizing the need for a formal organization, and the added benefits that such a network could provide to the profession, conference co-chairs Bonnie Palmer Weeks and Jaime Porter facilitated the first discussion about creating a new donor relations organization. To meet the ongoing needs of an already strong network and provide additional services that were not centralized at the time, Bonnie recruited stewardship representatives from other institutions to dialogue about starting a new organization.

The founders (and the institutions where they were then employed) included:

•    Bonnie Palmer Weeks, Phillips Exeter Academy

•    Jaime Porter, Colby College

•    Jenny Hertig McDonald, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

•    Joe Donnelly, Northeastern University

•    Michelle Robertson, Dartmouth College

•    Kati Mann Dombrosky, Tufts University School of Medicine

They considered joining forces with other existing organizations, including the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA), the New England Development Research Association (NEDRA), the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), and smaller regional communities of practice.

Ultimately, the importance of bringing increased visibility to the donor relations profession and including colleagues from a wider variety of institutions led them to create an entirely new international organization.

ADRP was organized as a non-profit business league under the laws of the State of New Hampshire, focusing on promoting the donor relations and stewardship professions, and offering professional development and networking opportunities.

Under the current bylaws, last revised in 2016, the Board of Directors consists of a president, president-elect, immediate past-president, secretary/treasurer, and six directors representing various regions and types of institutions. Terms of office run through the annual membership business meeting.