Nonprofit Career Profile: Fundraising and Development

If you love to build relationships, share your enthusiasm for a cause, and impact the resources available to a nonprofit, a position in nonprofit fundraising may be right for you.  Also known as development, this is the function responsible for all aspects of raising money, including pursuing and obtaining funds from foundations, corporations, individuals, and government sources through activities such as grant-writing, annual appeals, events and strategic campaigns. 

Because fundraising is essential to the success of an organization’s mission, there are many development jobs available and they are often among the highest-paid positions at a given organization.  In fact, demand for talented development professionals far outpaces the supply, so fundraising and development can be an exciting place to start a nonprofit career with a fast-track to the top. 

A World of Possibilities

Fundraising is one area where a variety of different competencies can be applied in different ways.  For example, strong writing skills are important for writing successful grants and communicating effectively with donors.  Excellent interpersonal skills are necessary for positions focusing on identifying and nurturing donor relationships.  While some development positions are primarily research-based, others focus on the logistics of planning special events for an organization.  There are also positions that are more general and require the development professional to integrate all of these skills. 

At the entry level, positions such as Development Associate, Junior Grant Writer, or Event Coordinator provide great hands-on experience.  These jobs tend to include the basics of development, typically involving planning, writing, editing, and reporting on the progress of grant proposals.  Additionally, development at this level can include tasks like researching and identifying new foundation and government sources of funding compatible with the organization’s programs, maintaining relationships with existing corporate and foundation partners, and helping to develop effective relationships with new supporters. 

From there, the doors open to higher level positions like Development Manager, Major Gifts Officer, and Grants Manager.  This level of position incorporates skills like writing grant proposals and researching foundation sources with more high level tasks like preparing budgets for grant proposals and assisting in developing and cultivating relationships with current donors.  In addition, people in these positions frequently contribute to communication with key foundation donors and track progress of grant projects and other development activities, while providing assistance to the senior development and other leadership staff.

At the top of the career ladder are positions like Director of Development, Vice President of Development, and Chief Development Officer (CDO).  These positions typically require 5 to 10 years of experience in development and demonstrated success raising a significant amount of money to support nonprofits.  People in these high level positions generally work closely with the Chief Executive Officer or Executive Director to develop strategic fundraising plans and provide both the organization’s senior leadership and Board with regular reports on progress toward annual and quarterly revenue goals.  Frequently, these positions include researching potential funding sources, managing strategic partnerships, overseeing the preparation of grant proposals and donor communications, and managing other development staff. 

A Closer Look at Three Fundraising Roles

Grant Writing

If written communication is your strength, grant writing may be the route for you.  Grant writers are organized, attentive to detail, and use concise, persuasive writing to request funding for an organization’s programs.  Most nonprofits rely upon some form of grants to fund either their programs or other operating costs, so the success of a grant writer directly affects the opportunities available to an entire organization. 

The most important part of the grant writing position is understanding the requirements of a grant and being able to succinctly and convincingly reflect how an organization meets those requirements. Strong grant writers use their writing skills to demonstrate the logic behind and outcome of the project, show the impact funds will have, and showcase community support for the project. In addition to being able to write persuasively, grant writers also use skills of research and planning. 

Special Events Manager

Many organizations rely on a series of special events throughout the year to not only raise money for their programs, but also to increase the organization’s visibility and provide opportunities for current and potential donors to interact with the organization.  Events could range from large-scale formal galas with seated dinners and auctions, to golf tournaments, to more intimate breakfast panels, to structured site visits to see the organization’s programs in action.  Most nonprofits have a variety of events that occur at different times each year and serve slightly different purposes or are aimed at different audiences. 

As organizations increase their calendar of events, they often look to bring in a Special Events Coordinator or Manager who is skilled at designing and executing a variety of events.  With exceptional attention to detail, strong vendor management skills, and a flair for entertaining, a good Special Events Manager can be the difference between a great event and a mediocre one, and therefore between an event that raises significant money for an organization and one that doesn’t.  For professionals transitioning from the for-profit sector, a role in special events can be an excellent entry point into nonprofit work, and similarly, developing special events management skills in the nonprofit sector can This role is one that is particularly

Special events management skills are highly transferable between sectors, so these are great roles both for professionals transitioning from the for-profit sector as well as for nonprofit professionals who are considering moving to the for-profit arena.

Major Gifts Officer

Major gifts from individual donors represent a great opportunity for an organization to develop a long-term, connected relationship to a donor that is both highly tailored to that individual’s philanthropic interests and related to the real and immediate needs of the nonprofit.  In addition, contributions from individual donors are generally not tied to very specific requirements or grant cycles, so donations can be more flexible.

Major gifts positions are highly coveted positions within nonprofits and professionals with exceptional interpersonal skills and a strategic orientation tend to be successful in these roles.  Cultivation of individual donors is part art and part science, and many nonprofit professionals really enjoy the relationship management process.  In addition, success in a major gifts position can be a building block to a more senior development position.

A Positive Career Trajectory

A career in nonprofit fundraising offers a variety of opportunities to make a real impact on an organization, as well as the community it serves.  Additionally, the high demand for people with strong skills in development provides job security, quick promotion, and above-average compensation to those who choose to work in this dynamic field.  There are a variety of different roles within the fundraising function, so don’t rule it out just because you think you don’t like asking for money!


This article was written by Commongood Careers and is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

For more information about nonprofit and socially entrepreneurial careers, visit Commongood Careers at http://www.commongoodcareers.org