So, you’re considering a career in fundraising?
We’re elated to hear it! Why? Because more than a third of Talent Market’s searches are for development staff!
Despite the constant demand for development talent, fundraising is not a common career path — especially for those coming out of college. However, many of the people who stumble into a career in advancement quickly learn it’s a rewarding, dynamic field with the potential to make an enormous impact.
Many different careers can translate well for fundraising. Sales, banking, communications, client management, and advocacy all lend themselves to development roles. But as you’ll learn below, fundraising’s diversity makes it a fit for a wide swath of talent.
Fundraising is Diverse
One unique aspect of fundraising is its diversity. There are a multitude of specialties within fundraising, all of which require slightly different skills. Here is a sampling of the specialties along with the skills needed for each:
- Fundraising Program Management — Usually titled Director of Development, this individual manages the overall fundraising program with an organization. You can think of this person as the “Team Captain.” The Director of Development should be a solid manager of people and projects, highly organized, capable of follow-through, and good at “managing up.”
- Major Gifts — A Major Gifts Officer builds relationships with donors and often “makes the ask.” You can think of MGOs as client relations specialists. A successful MGO is a strong listener and relationship-builder who is confident and not afraid to make the ask.
- Grant Writing/Foundation Relations — A Grant Writer/Foundation Relations Manager authors proposals and builds personal relationships with foundation representatives. Ideal candidates for this role are good writers who can digest a large-scale mission and notable metrics into a succinct couple page report.The ideal Grant Writer/Foundation Relations Manager is a strong writer who excels at building relationships.
- Direct Mail/Marketing — The Direct Mail Manager oversees an organization’s direct marketing efforts to donors and prospective donors. Someone that has a high attention to detail and process improvement is usually good in this sort of role. A competent Direct Mail Manager will be a persuasive copy writer who enjoys data analysis and thinking outside the box.
- Donor Research — A Donor Research Manager identifies and uncovers critical information about potential individual, foundation, and corporate donors. A strong Donor Research Manager excels at research and finding new ways to uncover hard-to-find information.
- Estate Planning — The Planned Giving Officer works closely with donors on the largest and most impactful philanthropic decision of their lives: estate gifts. An ideal Planned Giving Officer will have the same traits as a Major Gifts Officer, but will also have experience in estate planning, trust and estate management, charitable giving tax law, or a related field. Having a law degree is icing on the cake.
- Event Planning — The Event Planner plans and implements an organization’s events — from lunches to roundtable events and annual gala dinners. A strong Event Planner is highly organized, loves entertaining, and absolutely sweats the small stuff.
- Development Administration — Development Assistants/Coordinators provide the back-end administrative support to the fundraising team. This can include research, scheduling, coordinating, meeting preparation, and just about everything but the kitchen sink. A successful Development Assistant is highly organized, persistent, and doesn’t mind being behind-the-scenes.
Two Cents of Advice
- Start talking to your friends in fundraising! Take them to lunch and pick their brains about the profession and their recommendations for how you can get started.
- Patience is a virtue — especially in fundraising. Fundraising success will not come overnight; but if you do the right things, your efforts will eventually pay off.
Resources for Getting Started
If you’re excited about exploring a career in fundraising, here are some resources that might prove useful.
- An Overview of the Fundraising World
- Institute for Charitable Giving – founded by Jerry Panas, they have some of the best seminars in the field.
- The Balance: Fundraising for Nonprofits – If you’re interested in non-profits in general, and how the fundraising world works, this gives a great overview.
- Resources for Transitioning to a Development Career
- Fundraising-specific Books
- The Artful Journey by Bill Sturtevant
- Any book by Jerold Panas
- Any book / blog / article by Richard Viguerie – Viguerie is the direct mail guru of the fundraising world.
- Retention: Science Keeping Donors by Roger Craver
- How to Turn Your Words Into Money by Jeff Brooks
- Seeing Through a Donor’s Eyes by Tom Ahern
- Revolution in the Mailbox by Mal Warwick
- Non-fundraising Books that Line Many Good Fundraiser’s Shelves
- The Millionaire Next Door – While not a fundraising book per se, this a staple of many fundraisers’ libraries.
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
- To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink