Development—also known as fundraising or institutional advancement—is essential to the life and goals of any nonprofit organization. It's how these institutions acquire the funds to make repairs, improvements, and expansions, or simply to continue operating. The people who move this system forward are development associates: skilled communicators who generate financial resources for their organizations. Some job duties of development associates include:
- Writing fundraising appeals and acknowledgment letters
- Processing donations and entering fundraising data into the department’s database of choice
- Researching and applying for grant opportunities
- Coordinating and planning cultivation and fundraising events
- Managing volunteers at events
- Performing prospect research and analysis
- Cultivating individual donors through phone follow-ups and in-person conversations
At a smaller organization, a development associate might be involved in every aspect of development. At larger organizations, though, the job tends to be more specialized, with the development department broken down into several distinct tracks: institutional giving (grants); individual giving; event planning; database work; and prospect research.
Development Associate at a Glance
This is an entry-level career in the development department, and generally requires a bachelor's degree. Development associates have a fairly clear path to follow: after working as associates for some time, they may be promoted to more specialized positions (like event coordinator or grant writer) within the five main tracks of development: institutional giving (grants), individual giving, event planning, data analytics, and prospect research. From there, they can become the head of their track (e.g. special events manager or grants manager), and eventually ascend to the highest position in development: the chief development officer, also known as the director of development. Development professionals with significant expertise can also become freelance fundraising consultants.
Experience and skills are unquestionably valuable, but in a job about sharing and eliciting enthusiasm and appreciation for an organization, it’s difficult to make up for a lack of honest belief in the importance of the organization’s work. Aspiring development associates should start by examining local nonprofits to find one they feel passionate about, and then send off an email with a cover letter that demonstrates that passion—and the ability to make it contagious.
- Grant writing
- Oral and written communication
- Database systems
- Event planning
Development associates are creative, personable, and detail-oriented individuals with strong written and verbal communication skills. They are capable of crafting fundraising appeals, acknowledgment letters, grant applications, and event plans that say something new while matching the company’s brand and the target audience—and without crossing the line into cliché or tastelessness. Development associates also possess strong organizational, multitasking, and information-management skills, which help them keep a handle on the sensitive information that passes through their hands.
Development associates usually work conventional business hours in an office setting. However, those who specialize in events may work more flexible schedules and late nights, and may travel for the job. There is also an expectation that development associates, no matter their role, try to attend events at other local nonprofits, both to support peers and as a form of research.