When we think of the work nonprofit organizations do, we tend to envision
people ladling out food to the poor, or lawyers filing injunctions, or people
in bright yellow rafts facing down whaling ships.
While the people in the rafts may get all the attention, the development
director is the one who raises money so the organization can buy rafts in
the first place.
What does a development director do? "It depends on the organization,"
says John Knox of Earth Island Institute. "In a big organization, they may
manage 50 people in a development department. In a small outfit of three or
four people, they may do everything."
Mostly, a development director raises money. But how they do it also depends
on the organization they work for.
One way to raise money is through fund-raising dinners or concerts. A tiny
nonprofit organization in a small town may hold a pancake breakfast to raise
money. Those in large cities may put on a black-tie dinner at $1,000 a plate.
The development director organizes it all, from writing publicity releases
to renting the hall and hiring caterers.
Another way to raise money is through "major donor" campaigns, which solicit
large donations from the wealthy. Let's say your organization is called Save
the Tree Frogs, and there's a millionaire in your city that has given money
to other tree frog organizations.
The development director would be sure to contact that millionaire to coax
a donation out of him. They might call or write, or ask friends of the millionaire
for an introduction.
Once a major donor is on board, the donor is often asked to convince their
millionaire friends to give a donation as well. Or maybe they'll be asked
to invite 10 friends to a $1,000-a-plate dinner.
It's up to the development director to research possible donors, bring
them into the fold, and then nurture and expand these relationships.
"It's not a 'making a sale' mentality," says Priscilla Gould, executive
director of a United Way chapter. "A development director has to focus on
building a relationship [between the donor and organization] for life."
Some development directors specialize in grant writing. Large foundations
give money away every year in chunks called grants. Most foundations are highly
specialized: one may give to projects that help girls excel in science and
math, while another may give only to groups that restore butterfly habitats.
Development directors have to research foundations whose requirements fit
their organization and find out what kind of grants a foundation has given
out in the past.
Then they have to write a proposal explaining what they'll do with the
grant and why their project is the best use of the foundation's money. Many
groups are competing for the same money, so the grant has to be perfectly
matched and tailored to the foundation to even be considered.
There are lots of other ways to raise money, too, like mailings, bequests
(asking people to leave you money in their will), auctions, selling T-shirts
or calendars or bumper stickers, asking for money over the phone or canvassing
A development director has to figure out which approach best suits the
organization and its members.
Lists of potential donors' e-mail addresses are also now being shared,
bought and sold between organizations for increased publicity. E-mail has
proven itself as a safe, fast, and efficient method of contacting donors.
Skills Vary With the Organization
"A good development director has to combine great analytical skills --
the engineer-mathematician brain -- with all the grace and interpersonal skills
of a social worker," says Gould.
Jan Masaoka, executive director of the Support Center for Nonprofit Management,
disagrees. "I think it really depends on the kind of fund-raising your organization
does," says Masaoka.
"If your organization raises money by having a black-tie dance every year,
you have to be able to mingle with a [high-society] social group while still
being very detailed-oriented.
"On the other hand, if your organization raises solely through mailings,
you have to be a wonderful writer, but you can be a real grouch."
Since different fund-raising approaches require different skills, Masaoka
believes the most important attributes of a development director "are being
genuinely committed to the organization you're raising money for, and being
able to learn from your mistakes."
Knox has a different take. "The job of the developmental director is to
enthusiastically and imaginatively communicate the mission of the organization,"
he says. "They're the great communicator, and they're responsible for getting
the message out."
How to Get Started
In development, experience -- not schooling -- is everything.
"These kinds of skills aren't taught in schools," says Masaoka. "If you
interview someone with a BA in world history who was chair on a committee
that raised $100,000 last year and someone who has an MA in fund-raising but
who has never actually been a fund-raiser before, who would you hire?"
Both she and Gould agree the best way to get experience is to volunteer.
"That's the easiest way to get your feet wet and see if the position fits,"
Tell the organization up front that you're interested in development, and
don't get stuck licking envelopes. "It's very appropriate to ask for what
you want," says Gould, "and if the organization can't help you, you don't
want to work for that organization."
"Get experience in a couple of different kinds of fund-raising," says Masaoka.
"Ask to help out on a dinner committee, then ask to accompany a development
director on calls to major donors for individual gifts.
"Good development directors need to know enough about all kinds of fund-raising
to choose the right vehicle for their organization."
Volunteering gives you hands-on experience and builds contacts that can
land you a job in the future.
The salary range for development directors is unbelievably varied. They
can make as little as a few thousand a year at a teensy nonprofit operation
working out of someone's basement or as much as $100,000 at a university or
large national organization.
No matter how much you're paid, it's expected that you'll raise lots more
than you earn, so, in a way, your position doesn't cost the organization anything.
The bottom line for any development director is how much money you're able
Once you have a track record, however, "development directors have the
most stable careers" in the nonprofit world, says Masaoka. Proven fund-raisers
can find positions even when other nonprofit jobs are hard to come by.
Building the Cause
Despite all the talk about money, that's not why most people become development
directors. "You can't ask for money without explaining why it's needed," says
Masaoka, "and when you do that, you're building the cause."
Whether they're schmoozing with the rich and powerful, or huddled over
books in a research library, the very best development directors are the ones
committed to helping their community. They're the people that make the bright
yellow rafts possible.
The Foundation Center
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