Development—also known as fundraising or institutional advancement—is essential to the life and goals of any nonprofit organization. It's how these vital institutions acquire the funds to make repairs, improvements, and expansions, or simply to continue operating. Skilled communicators and analysts, development associates work in a variety of ways to generate financial resources for their organizations. Some job duties include the following:
- 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
A development associate at a smaller organization might be involved in every aspect of the organization's development activities. At larger organizations, however, the development department tends to be broken into several distinct tracks: institutional giving (i.e., grants); individual giving (i.e., donors); event planning; database management and analysis; and prospect research.
Development Associate at a Glance
This is an entry-level position in the development department; as such, it generally requires a bachelor's degree but no further career-specific knowledge. Should they choose to remain in the same field, development associates (also called development representatives or officers) typically enjoy a clearly indicated career progression. A development associate who consistently gets good results can usually expect a promotion to a more specialized position—such as event coordinator or grant writer—within the first two years. From there, employees of large organizations can aim to become the head of their track (e.g. special events manager or grants manager).
Eventually, the most successful and experienced development workers can ascend to the highest position in the department: the chief development officer, also known as the director of development. Transition to this role might require an MBA or other advanced degree. Experienced development professionals with great connections and networking skills might also become freelance fundraising consultants. Finally, development associates can use their skills to seek positions in other fields. For example, associates whose favorite part of the job is organizing events, parties, and concerts might start a career in event production or operations.
Both experience within the field and strong writing skills are unquestionably valuable to employers, but in a job about sharing and eliciting enthusiasm for an organization, there's no substitute for passionate belief in the organization's importance. Aspiring development associates should start by researching local nonprofits to find one they feel excited about, and then check for open positions. Even if no openings are posted, it's often worth reaching out; the combination of a strong résumé with a cover letter that demonstrates one's passion—and the ability to make that passion contagious—can turn heads and open doors.
- 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.