October 1, 2014

What are the Benefits of a Development Career?

By: Roger Custer

Chicago 4-16 (16)

I sometimes meet college students who are passionate about free markets and searching for a career that will advance their ideas.  Almost always, they want to attend law school or be a policy scholar.  Unfortunately, they are missing one of the most rewarding and lucrative careers in the nonprofit sector: development.  Sometimes called external relations, partnerships, or advancement, a career in fundraising will provide you many options and many rewards.  Students, including me when I was in college, are not encouraged to pursue a development career and graduate unfamiliar with its benefits.

If you are a people person, you will probably do well in development.  If you enjoy interacting with people and developing relationships, consider a career in development.  Your responsibilities as a major gift officer will be to regularly meet with 150+ people and steward their relationship with the organization.  You’ll get to know their families, their passions, their ideas, and their giving priorities.  You’ll listen as they share their philanthropic desires and then match them to your organization’s mission and programs.

The liberty movement has a shortage of talented development people.  The majority of job openings at nonprofit liberty-advancing organizations (and non-profit organizations in general) are in development, especially mid- and senior-level positions.  Visit Talent Market’s job listings and you will notice that the majority involve development.

There are different types of development careers.  If you are not comfortable asking people for gifts, there are other development positions available.  At larger organizations, you can focus on research, events, gift processing, direct mail, or online fundraising, among other opportunities.  These people support major gift staff by managing mailings, handling data entry, researching prospects, scheduling meetings, making thank you calls, sending email updates, and other tasks.  Most of that work does not involve interaction with donors – and it certainly does not involve major gift asks.

Get started by volunteering for an organization.  The next question when reading this column is “How can I get a job in development if I don’t have any experience?”  You should volunteer with a nonprofit organization of your choice.  Almost every group is looking for volunteers to help with fundraising, and will probably not turn you down if you ask.  If you are still a student, ask people for gifts to support the club in which you participate or get a job with the college’s alumni call center.

Development careers are rewarding.  Development professionals provide the funds necessary to achieve the organization’s mission.  Development professionals serve donors by matching their passions with the organization’s work.  Development professionals cultivate relationships with successful people to help them achieve their philanthropic goals.  Personally, development professionals tend to make higher salaries than other nonprofit professionals and rise to management positions more quickly.  We may not have law degrees or appear on TV as policy spokesmen, but we are essential to the organization.

When you are considering your career, or a change of career, please consider development for a nonprofit about which you are passionate.  You’ll make a real impact on the population served by the organization, you’ll have fun, and you’ll fulfill a real need.

Roger Custer is Executive Director of America’s Future Foundation.