What Options are There in Fundraising Careers?

fundraising as a career Feb 23, 2021

So, what are some typical specialties one finds in the development office?

Planned Giving:

This is a career path often chosen by attorneys, financial planners or bankers who want to leave the for-profit world and work in development. While not usually as high paying as a career in law or the financial world, it is generally one of the highest paid positions in the profession of fundraising. Many of these professionals find that, although there is a significant cut in salary compared to the typical earning level of attorneys and financial planners, they enjoy the nonprofit world because of a passion for the mission or just because they want to leave the corporate world behind them. Many attorneys and bankers who have left the corporate world report that they are much happier in the nonprofit community where they feel they are really making a difference.

Major Gifts:

Most organizations value individuals who have had experience in obtaining major gifts and have a track record of success. (Note that major gifts are defined very differently for each organization), but if you enjoy meeting face-to-face with individual donors, you may opt to specialize in major gifts. Financial planners, attorneys and bankers often find this career path attractive, particularly if they have dealt with high income clients in a former career. This is a highly-sought-after specialty that generally comes only after years in the field. However, many development professionals in entry level positions strive to learn as much as possible about major gifts fundraising so they can specialize in this area.

Major Gifts are generally defined as a gift at level that requires special treatment, such as personal solicitation, special recognition, etc. Major gifts levels are defined differently by each organization. In a university or large nonprofit, a major gift could be $100,000 or even $1 million, and in some smaller organizations, a major gift might be $500 or even $100.

Campaign Specialist/Director/Manager:

Some people really enjoy the fast-paced world of capital campaigns and, in a large organization like a university where campaigns are usually ongoing occurrences, there may be openings for people who work exclusively on capital campaigns and special projects. Once you develop experience in capital campaigns for one organization, you can easily move into becoming a capital campaign specialist in a larger organization where campaigns are prevalent, or even into a consulting career.

Annual Giving:

Many individuals enjoy the annual giving part of fundraising. While some may think that it is boring and repetitious, the annual giving program is the key to developing major donors. Positions in this area might involve managing the direct mail program, a telephone program and Internet fundraising in a smaller organization, or managing just one of these components in a larger organization. An “annual fund generalist” who works in all aspects of the annual fund may find that one area is particularly appealing and may decide to focus even more narrowly into direct mail, for example. Positions with a very narrow focus like this will generally only be available in very large organizations.

Corporate/Business Giving:

Many individuals, particularly those who came into the fundraising profession from the business world, will find corporate giving challenging and rewarding. This area of fundraising may include drafting proposals for corporate foundations or organizing an annual business appeal. If you come from a business background, your contacts can prove very valuable to the nonprofit organization seeking corporate support. As a business person entering the fundraising profession, your experience in the business world may be very attractive to an organization that is trying to increase the level of its corporate/business fundraising efforts.

Special Events:

Some people just love throwing parties, and although there is a lot more involved in running special events than being present at the event itself, including seeking sponsorships, managing the calendar, preparing the budget, recruiting and working with volunteers, special events may appeal to you. If you have volunteered at the organization’s special events, you may be interested in working as a staff person coordinating events. Because special events can be so labor intensive and draining, staff members who start in this position may often seek to move into more integrated fundraising roles where they have an opportunity to work on various fundraising projects in addition to events.


If your passion is the written word, there are positions in development for grant proposal writers and those who can write a good case for support, as well as other fundraising materials developed from the case. Journalism majors or people who have worked in the media often look for a career writing for nonprofits. Many larger organizations offer this specialty. In smaller organizations, the development officers may do all the writing themselves or may outsource some of this to an outside contractor.


If you enjoy doing research and working with data, there are opportunities to research individuals, corporations and foundations. Those with technical skills, good logic and persistence may find this an ideal development position. Universities and other large organizations generally have a department of researchers. Again, in smaller organizations this task usually falls under the chief development officer’s duties or might be outsourced.

Data Entry/Donor Management:

If you are skilled at managing data, you may find this position rewarding. Managing a donor database is one of the key positions in any development office, so a good database manager may be a highly sought-after individual. This position includes preparing development office reports, and sometimes research as well as stewardship of donor records. Individuals interested in technology and the Internet, and who have great organization skills, may be well suited for this position.

Position titles will vary from organization to organization and there may be variations of any or all the above positions. But in a larger development office, there is generally a Chief Development Officer, Vice President, or Director of Development who manages the rest of the staff. In a small office, the Director of Development will likely be responsible for all these tasks.

Some practical tips to help you find your niche:

  • Take a personality test and find out if you are a person who sees the big picture or if you really like to get into the details.
  • Talk to people in the development profession and ask them what they like and don’t like about their jobs, what are their biggest challenges and their greatest rewards?
  • Volunteer at a large organization to help in its development office and get a flavor for all that it takes to run a large development program.

To learn more about getting started in or advancing in your fundraising career, take my course, Fundraising as a Career, sign up here


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