Are you a match for the development department?

Written by: Kelli Karanovich and Marc Schultz
Published on: May 3, 2021


(Image: fizkes)

The pandemic is drawing closer to an end, and employers are back to hiring: Great news for jobseekers. However, you may have noticed, in your own job search, that nonprofits are using the word “development” more frequently than ever  – and it may have led you to wonder, What exactly is the development function, and could it be a fit for me? 

If so, you may be on to something: Today’s development department covers more than ever, as nonprofits adapt to a changing donor base, pandemic conditions, and an economic downturn. 

In short, development is about making money (or other resources) for the nonprofit. That’s why development talent is so in demand, and also why it can be a confusing term for jobseekers – especially sector-switchers.

To answer your question properly, a position in development may be right for you if: 

  • You have a background in fundraising or sales. The focus of development is fundraising: the development team is tasked with raising enough funds for the organization to continue growing and achieving its goals.

    If you’re relatively new to the sector, you may understand “development” as it's used in for-profit settings, but it's actually closer to sales. Instead of selling a product, you're selling the mission – or, to be more exact, the opportunity to support the mission.
  • You're a skilled relationship-builder. With the above in mind, it's important to understand that development is more than “just” fundraising. It’s about developing support, with all that implies – especially regarding relationships.

    Because individual giving makes up the vast majority of revenue at most nonprofits, the bulk of the development department’s work goes toward building strong and sustained relationships with donors and prospective donors.
  • You're experienced in marketing. More and more, marketing and development are becoming a single unit in nonprofit organizations. Via newsletters, social media, ads, and more, marketing professionals aid the development team by encouraging people to sign up, donate, and participate in events. Whether a single department or separate, there will always be active collaboration between nonprofit marketers and developers. A background in for-profit business marketing can also be an excellent springboard into a new career in nonprofit development. 

Among the tasks involved in the development function: 

  • Campaign planning, including overall strategy, goals, and tactics
  • Donor recruitment and relations, including prospect research and community outreach
  • Event planning, including everything from galas to athletic events to online auctions
  • Grant writing, including the preparation of application materials for funding from private, corporate, and government sources 
  • Data management and analysis, including donor databases and research on opportunities to expand the donor base

Depending on the size of the team, development positions may involve a number of hats and pitch in on every effort, or they may be specialists assigned to a specific role or project. Leaders of the development team may interact directly with the board of directors, as well as with the compliance officers who oversee fundraising efforts.

As the primary income engine for the organization, the development department is essential – making it one of the more secure career prospects, but also one of the most high-pressure. It also provides lots of opportunity: There are positions available for pros in any stage of their career, and pay rates range from $25 per hour to $140,000 annually. 

At the time of writing, Work for Good’s job board lists over 100 development positions at nonprofits throughout the United States. Job titles include: 

  • Director of Advancement
  • Development Manager
  • Development Associate – Individual Giving
  • Data Services Assistant
  • Coordinator of Special Events
  • Content Publishing Coordinator
  • Field Office Director
  • Major Gifts Officer
  • Direct Mail and Digital Marketing Manager
  • Annual Fund Manager

A bachelor’s degree is usually required for development positions, but it can typically be in any major. Add the above to strong communication skills and a purpose-driven approach to work, and you have what it takes to succeed at a career in nonprofit development. 

Kelli Karanovich is an editor at Work for Good, as well as a professional copywriter and educator who also publishes as Kelli Lynn Grey.

Marc Schultz is communications editor at Work for Good.