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Development Directors Needed to Show Nonprofits the Money

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 door-to-door.

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," says Gould.

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 to raise.

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
The place to go to research and write grant proposals

The Chronicle of Philanthropy
News on who gave what to whom and who's hiring
Source for information on everything about online fund-raising

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