Nonprofit Development: What is It & How to Get a Job in It

Nonprofit Development What is It & How to Get a Job in It image of nonprofit development team working together on a project

Nonprofit Development: What is It & How to Get a Job in It

For nonprofit organizations, finding the resources and funds to operate and execute their mission is one of, if not the most important part of running the organization. Fundraising and development are one of the biggest ways of securing funds for their programs, staff, and their mission-driven projects. In the nonprofit sector, having a strong development team can be the difference between success and failure in their mission. In order to reach their goals and continue their growth, organizations must rely on fundraising, donations, and charitable gifts from their supporters and potential donors. In this article, we will discuss the definition of nonprofit development, the importance of it and the role it plays within an organization, as well as how you can find careers within this crucial department of your organization of choice!

What is nonprofit development?

To put it as plainly as possible, nonprofit development is often what an organization will refer to instead of fundraising. We’ll explain the difference between fundraising and development later, but the main difference to understand is that development is more about the act of building relationships that lead to charitable gifts and donations. Creating and developing these relationships can lead to lifetime support for the nonprofit. A strong development team will be able to build long-lasting relationships with donors and members of the community that will keep the organization funded.

How does a fundraising campaign work?

The development team will sometimes be in charge of event planning and creating fundraising campaigns in association with the nonprofit’s marketing team. Here’s a look at what the fundraising strategy stages of a campaign look like for fundraising professionals and development positions:

  • Planning – Staff will create schedules for communication along with updates for their supporters. They also plan any promotional materials, goals, and engagement activities during this stage of the campaign.
  • Soft Launch – To make sure that the campaign starts off on the right foot, they will normally do a “soft launch” meaning that development professionals will appeal to the most devoted donors of the nonprofit ahead of the official launch of the campaign. This is a way to build momentum for the campaign before it begins.
  • Hard Launch – The campaign is officially launched with promotion on the nonprofit’s website and social media channels with an announcement to potential donors via email as well.
  • Active Period – This period is the active body of the fundraiser. The development team will set sub-goals to stay on track and plan other appeals or engagement opportunities to get through any slow periods.
  • Push to Deadline – In a lot of cases, more donations will come in at the end of the campaign. There is a sense of urgency from the development team during this time as they look for more charitable donations to reach their goals of the campaign.
  • Thank You/Follow Up –After the deadline of the campaign, the development department is responsible for sending “thank you” letters or material to their donors. Sending more personalized messages can keep donors updated on the campaign and the program they donated to. This is also a time to share with them any other fundraising plans that might come up in the future.

What’s the difference between fundraising and development?

As we said before, the biggest difference between the two is that development is the act of building the relationships with donors and the community. Resource development professionals know that fundraising is one of the main goals of the professional development of the nonprofit. Nonprofit fundraising focuses on obtaining funds, collecting donations, and achieving financial goals for the nonprofit. While fundraising efforts are extremely important for nonprofits, it isn’t consistent and normally will come in waves or in the form of one-time major gifts from donors. Some nonprofits only hold a few fundraising events per year and those special events will usually help cover their budgets up until the next fundraising event.

What goes into nonprofit resource development?

Working in the development department of a nonprofit includes a very comprehensive list of duties that require quite a bit of skill. The resource development professional role includes planning and establishing a pipeline of understanding, cultivating, asking, and following up with prospective donors. There is a constant pursuit of potential donors from various sources with the end goal of creating a strong relationship with this partner to secure their support for the future.

There is a great amount of research that goes into development, as well as a need for knowledge of grant writing and how to apply for grants, which is an important source of funding in the nonprofit sector. The development department oversees grant seeking and research, proposal writing, and reports requirements.

Additionally, development officers are in charge of tracking interactions with donors and maintaining gift recognition programs, as well as creating publications and campaigns to support fundraising activities like annual reports that get sent out to donors.

How to Start a Career in Nonprofit Development

Breaking into working for a nonprofit organization can sometimes be a struggle, as most organizations have financial limitations and are looking for more volunteers than full-time paid employees. If you’re someone looking to get into nonprofit development, there are several ways to go about finding a career with a nonprofit. Here are some of the best ways to break into nonprofit development as a nonprofit professional.

Look for Internship Opportunities

For those looking to start working in the development department of a nonprofit, one of the best ways to start is searching for internship opportunities within the department. This is not only a great way to get a first-hand look at how the nonprofit operates, but it’s a great way to gain valuable experience within the development area. Interning can allow you to learn valuable skills from development directors and get a close look at how the board of directors will work with the development team on fundraising projects.


Volunteering is by far the best way to break into any career with a nonprofit. Volunteering for fundraising events can be a fantastic way to build a professional relationship with the development team and show them that you’re interested in being a part of their cause. Many nonprofit professionals credit their volunteering experience as how they were able to get their position with the organization they work for. Being a volunteer also gives you great hands-on experience and are the best way to get your foot in the door for your nonprofit career.

Show Interest Within Your Professional Network

As a nonprofit professional, your professional network should include some nonprofit leaders or nonprofit executives. These are valuable connections that can help you break into the development field for a nonprofit organization. Building a strong network of nonprofit professionals can help you find opportunities across the sector for a multitude of different causes. View it as an opportunity for you to showcase your amazing skills to an executive director or other senior leaders at the nonprofit you want to work for. Utilizing LinkedIn can lead to growing your professional network and climbing the career ladder within the nonprofit sector.

Work With a Nonprofit Recruiter

As you’re looking for a development role with a nonprofit organization, one way to really find your dream position is to work with a nonprofit recruiter that has experience in the industry and has connections to organizations that are looking for outstanding candidates to add to their team. Scion Nonprofit has a team of dedicated nonprofit recruiters that work closely with organizations that are looking to add to their development efforts. A nonprofit recruiter will work to find you the best organizational match based on your personal mission and organizational goals.

Scion Nonprofit Can Help You Find Your Next Nonprofit Development Role!

Scion Nonprofit specializes in finding nonprofit positions for experienced, mission-driven nonprofit professionals across the country. Whether you’re an entry-level or executive level professional, our experienced team of recruiters can help you find the perfect nonprofit organization to work with. We care about your mission and your personal goals. This is why our industry expert recruiters make sure to find roles that you would actually care about, rather than pushing non-relevant jobs and opportunities! Our search firm was designed to meet the exact needs of the nonprofit sector and provide our devoted clients with high-quality nonprofit talent. Contact us today to connect with a recruiter or visit our website to view our open opportunities!