Consider a Career in Development

People ask me for career advice on a regular basis.  If you are interested in public policy and working for the liberty movement, my best advice is to consider a career in development.  Far too many students and new graduates think they should go to law school and/or become a policy scholar.  The reality is that most people are not the right fit for law school and there are few openings available for policy positions.  At the same time, there are ample openings for development and a real need for talented people.  When I was a student, I didn’t realize this was a career track.  Here are some further thoughts on this topic:

1.  Development officers generally make more money.  The reality is that people who bring in revenue instead of spend it tend to make a higher salary.  This is not always the case (and won’t be for the first part of your career), but generally is for most of your career.  Also, in order to be the president or executive director of a nonprofit, you need to have experience with development and will spend the majority of your time doing it.

2.  The mission is not achieved without development.  You can put on the best programs, produce the best research, educate the most people, and have the coolest website, but it will not continue to grow unless you have a talented development team developing donor relationships for the long term.  An organization is simply not able to meet its mission without raising the funds necessary to stay open and grow over time.

3.  There is always demand for your skills.  The most talented development officers are often recruited away by other organizations because there is so much need for their services.  While people in other fields may have a hard time finding new opportunities, there are almost always new jobs in development.  Just take a look at Talent Market and you will see that most openings are in development.

4.  You meet incredible people and help them achieve their goals.  One of the most rewarding parts of development is the opportunity to meet and work with successful, hard-working, dedicated donors who are passionate about your work and looking for ways to establish their legacy.  Few career fields allow you to become friends with such incredible people and help them make an impact.

5.  Not all development jobs require face to face asking.  One common objection to development is when people are uncomfortable asking for money, especially face to face or in someone’s home.  If that is not your strength, there are other tracks in development that might suit you better.  Larger organizations hire people who work on direct mail, research, writing and editing, online fundraising, foundations and proposal writing (although that does involve some in-person meetings), and event planning.  Maybe you should consider those tracks if you don’t want to be in major gifts or in-person asking.

Development is not for everyone and is an art, not a science.  Each donor is different and it takes a lot of time, patience, and energy in order to develop relationships that result in major or transformational gifts.  With that said, my advice is to consider a career in development because it may be a great fit for you in the nonprofit liberty movement.

Roger Custer is executive director at America’s Future Foundation.  

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