Development officer

Atlanta, Georgia
Salary commensurate with experience + benefits
Sep 20, 2018
Oct 20, 2018
CAO position
Position Type
Full Time
Degree Level
Willingness to Travel
up to 25%
Experience Level


In 1967, Dian Fossey founded the Karisoke Research Center adjacent to Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, providing for the protection and study of mountain gorillas, a critically endangered primate species that many scientists thought would be extinct before the year 2000.  More than 50 years later, Fossey remains a conservation hero and icon, and the work she initiated not only continues but has become one of the world’s most inspiring conservation success stories, with the mountain gorilla population having almost tripled in size.   Fossey’s name is forever linked with the beautiful mountains of Rwanda and majestic silverback gorillas whom she befriended.  Her life and tragic death are still the subject of intense media interest--National Geographic did both a story and three hour mini series on Dian Fossey in 2017.  She is one of the few scientists with public name recognition and, even 33 years after her death, continues to be a source of inspiration around the globe.

Dian Fossey’s work continues in the organization that bears her name—the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.  The focus of the organization’s work is through a four pronged approach that it calls “extreme conservation”: 1) providing daily protection to individual gorilla families; 2) conducting cutting-edge scientific research; 3) building the next generation of African leaders in conservation and science; and 4) engaging local communities living near the forest through livelihood, education, and food and water security initiatives.  In 2018, the Fossey Fund launched its first capital campaign to build a state-of-the-art, permanent home for its programs.  Based in Rwanda, the new campus will feature 50,000 sq ft of lab, classroom, exhibit, and office space and be a hub for conservation and research in the region.  The $10 million capital campaign was initiated with a lead naming gift from Ellen DeGeneres.  The Fossey Fund has also embarked on its first endowment campaign to ensure the long-term sustainability of its programs. 

The Fossey Fund is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with international headquarters on the grounds of Zoo Atlanta. The Fossey Fund is governed by a Board of 25 Trustees who possess a broad range of non profit, business and professional backgrounds. Ms. Sigourney Weaver, who starred in the movie about Dian Fossey’s work, Gorillas in the Mist, is Honorary Board Chair and a continuing active supporter of the Fossey Fund.

Dr. Tara Stoinski, a leading scientist and gorilla expert, became the Fossey Fund’s Chief Executive in 2014.  The organization has 181 staff, 170 based in Africa and 11 based in Atlanta.  The organization is the largest private sector employer in the areas of Rwanda and Congo where it works and has developed humanitarian programs that impact the lives of more than 20,000 each year.  Over the last three years, the organization has grown its expense budget from just under $3 million to $3.7 million and is in solid financial shape.  It is starting the last year of a three year strategic plan, which has focused heavily on expanding scientific expertise, training young African scientists, building staff capacity, and implementation of strategic community projects aimed at improving the lives of people living adjacent to the gorillas.

The Fossey Fund collaborates with organizations around the world to implements its mission.  It works closely with the governments of Rwanda and DR Congo to ensure its work focuses on governmental priorities.  With tourism to see gorillas being the top source of foreign revenue for the country of Rwanda, preservation of gorillas and their habitats is critical not just for wildlife but also for the country as a whole.

The Fossey Fund, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017, maintains the world’s longest running and most productive gorilla research program and has played a critical role in the prevention of the extinction of the mountain gorilla.  Its go-forward goal is to inspire and mobilize governments, local communities, supporters, donors and scientists to join in taking action to prevent the extinction of gorillas and the destruction of their habitat.  Its ambitious agenda includes:

  • Engage and align with the objectives and needs of stakeholders:  local populations; government decision-makers; the scientific community; partners in programs and projects; and donors.
  • Grow the program and demonstrate its impact: Expand and evolve the Karisoke Research Center model; build an international scientific/conservation institute; provide information to inform policy; and create and share compelling messages.
  • Increase operations to meet the needs: Invest in, and grow, fundraising; strengthen financial and organizational sustainability; build up field conservation capabilities; and enhance and grow the scientific team.


Building sustainable funding for the organization is a key strategic goal for the Fossey Fund. The philanthropy budget for fiscal year 2018 (ending September 30, 2018) is predicted to be just under $4 million.  The Advancement team has ten staff—including a communications/public relations capability—focused on fund development. Expected sources for this giving includes the following:

  • Individual giving—comprising nearly one-half of all philanthropy, major gifts remain a dependable and critical source of funds for the organization.  In 2017, the organization had more than 12,000 individual donors.
  • Foundations—Foundations are an area of significant growth potential for the organization and now contribute 25% of funding. 
  • Corporate giving—Several corporations partner with the Fossey Fund; their sponsorship generates nearly 10% of the organization’s budget.
  • Memorials and bequests—The Fossey Fund regularly receives bequests and a high priority is to implement a planned giving program.

The Fossey Fund is in the early stages of its first capital and endowment campaigns, which are $10 million and $3 million respectively.


Reporting to the President and Chief Executive Officer, the Chief Advancement Officer is responsible for the development, planning, management, and evaluation of all advancement programs supporting the Fossey Fund’s fundraising initiatives, including the planning and execution of support systems for a multimillion-dollar annual fundraising program.  Specifically, the CAO will oversee major, mid level and annual individual gifts, corporate and foundation gifts, development services and communications.

The CAO carries a portfolio of major and mid level gift prospects and is responsible for the identification, cultivation, one-on-one solicitation, and stewardship of donors. The position will aspire to develop six and seven figure gifts through both his/her own portfolio and that of the CEO.

Essential duties of the Chief Advancement Officer include the following:

  • Lead the development and communications team in designing and implementing high-level strategic fundraising programs and initiatives for the organization. Determine the fundraising goal for each fiscal year in collaboration with the Board and CEO.
  • Prepare and implement an annual plan to meet revenue needs of the Fossey Fund and its programs, including objectives for the research, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship of donors. Oversee the execution of fund development plans and report regularly on progress against plans and design any necessary “mid-period corrections” to enable the organization to achieve annual goals.
  • Participate actively in the implementation of a capital campaign. Tailor annual fund development plans to tie to donor strategies for the campaign. Leverage the visibility from the campaign to build donor and sponsor interest in recurring support for the Fossey Fund.
  • Maintain an aggressive schedule of face-to-face donor and prospect visits with assigned individuals in the portfolio to establish and strengthen relationships with those who have the potential to make major and/or planned gifts.
  • Develop a formal Planned Giving program for the organization as a constituent and vital part of overall fundraising plans.
  • Oversee the Director of Individual Giving in the implementation of an aggressive direct mail and digital solicitation program.
  • Lead and work with the team to implement a stewardship program with appropriate levels of staff response and periodic communications.
  • Serve as a public representative of the Fossey Fund by communicating its mission, purpose and vision to the public, corporate donors and sponsors as well as existing and new donor constituencies.
  • Guide the design of the Fossey Fund’s communications and public relations to directly support fund development strategies.
  • Partner with the President & CEO to deliver staff support to the Advancement Committee of the Board to support their fulfillment of fundraising goals and expansion of their fundraising base.
  • Coordinate and facilitate opportunities for the CEO and Board members to develop relationships with those who can substantially support the Fossey Fund financially.
  • Partner with the CEO and Manager of Foundation and Grants to develop and proactively manage foundation relations, including cultivation and stewardship.
  • Lead and work with the team to implement a stewardship program with appropriate levels of staff response and periodic communications.
  • Make certain that core knowledge and job goals are clearly defined, position responsibilities are clearly defined, performance metrics are established, and that accountability processes are in place and actively reviewed.
  • Build a culture within the advancement team whose focus is on meeting goals, qualifying and advancing donor prospects, and accomplishing strategic objectives.
  • Evaluate how the organization’s social media—now being followed by more than 400,000—may be expanded to build interest and support in the Fossey Fund.
  • Oversee the Advancement Services function. Ensure that data is appropriately incorporated into each aspect of the development strategy (prospect identification/discovery, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship).
  • Supervise a development team of eight individuals.


The Fossey Fund offers an accomplished Advancement executive the opportunity to take on a senior leadership role at a healthy, highly regarded international institution at a propitious time in its history. With a strong Chief Executive with deep science credentials and a compelling communications capability, a dedicated Board with the capacity to help expand the network of the organization’s friends, and early donor response in a significant capital campaign, the Fossey Fund is poised to extend its work saving an amazing primate species from extinction.

The Chief Advancement Officer will be an experienced senior development professional with solid accomplishments in achieving fundraising goals and managing a dedicated team. The successful candidate will have demonstrated managerial competence and a particular expertise in strategic relationship building, enlisting the active participation of friends of the organization. She/he will genuinely appreciate the mission of the Fossey Fund and be a masterful communicator sharing its story and vision.

Candidates will possess the following education and experience:

  • Undergraduate degree required; advanced degree and/or a CFRE a plus.
  • Five to eight years of progressively responsible experience in senior level fund development management. 
  • Responsibility for, or exposure to, best practices in communications for a nonprofit organization.
  • Experience in a successful capital campaign is a plus.
  • Favorable experience leading and managing a staff of at least four.

Successful candidates will demonstrate the following competencies:

  • Building philanthropic relationships with individuals and organizations, based upon a common vision for, and valuation of, the institution (measured through fundraising donors, dollars, significant gifts—five and six figures—and similar).
  • Ability to set expectations, establish priorities and manage multiple projects.
  • Interpersonal effectiveness—demonstrated by having built collaborative, trusting relationships with stakeholders including volunteers, staff, media and external audiences.
  • Outstanding written communications skills—for proposal preparation and communications with donors, and for reports—and oral communications skills for individual and group presentations.
  • Planning and organizing—thinks strategically, and plans and implements logically; builds partnerships to efficiently and effectively achieve measurable goals.

Successful candidates will also demonstrate the following key personal characteristics:

  • Passion for animal conservation
  • Effective team leader and team player
  • Achievement orientation
  • Actively listens
  • Strong work ethic
  • Problem-solver
  • Visionary—imagines what is possible and persuasively articulates that vision
  • Understands the effectiveness of attributing credit to partners wherever possible
  • Is comfortable—and readily—multi-tasks
  • Positive attitude
  • Sense of humor
  • Unquestionable integrity and trustworthiness

Interested individuals are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.  Please send resume and cover letter to Myriam Watkins ( 

For more information on the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, please visit: or @savinggorillas on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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