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. 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
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 career in the development department; it generally requires a bachelor's degree, although in no particular field. Development associates have a fairly clear career ladder to climb. After working as associates, representatives, or officers for some time, they may be promoted to more specialized positions like event coordinator or grant writer. From there, they can go on to become the head of their track (e.g. special events manager or grants manager), and eventually ascend to the highest position in the department: the chief development officer, also known as the director of development.
Outside of the field of development, associates might go on to start careers in event production or event operations. They might also collaborate with or found their own arts-based nonprofits as nonprofit artists. Development professionals with significant experience and a strong reputation might also become freelance fundraising consultants.
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.