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Thinking about a career in fundraising? Why not aim high?

April 6, 2012

As the president of the Greater Milwaukee Chapter of AFP, I get quite a few inquiries from mid-level career people looking to switch from the for-profit to the non-profit world.  I also encounter more and more college students who are thinking about starting out their careers in nonprofits, some of them specifically interested in fundraising.  These conversations typically focus on entry- or mid-level fundraising jobs, and there are quite a few resources out there for these folks.  But what about senior-level positions?  I haven’t spent a lot of time looking, but I don’t believe there’s a lot out there that describes what the positions at the apex of the fundraising career ladder look like. 

The March 22, 2012  issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy had a cover article with a lot of great information on what it takes to be a chief development officer at a large institution. I was particularly intrigued by a chart they put together that compared the director of development job with that of the chief development officer.  Key differences are that the director of development typically spends 100% of his/her time raising money or supervising appeals by other staff and volunteers, while the chief development officer spends just 10% on fundraising and 90% on institution-wide matters and the alignment of fundraising strategies with those institutional goals.  According to the article, as the demands on chief development officers have evolved away from strictly fundraising, it is becoming more difficult to find development directors who are adequately prepared to take on a chief development officer’s position.  While the development director needs strong knowledge of tactics and techniques for raising money, the chief development officer needs vision, diplomacy, financial skills, and an ability to navigate turf battles and institutional politics.  Several of the chief development officers interviewed in the article had MBAs or extensive experience in sales prior to taking on their current positions.

When beginning anything, it’s always good to have the end in mind.  So now when I talk with aspiring fundraisers, I will sprinkle in references to the skills needed to get the top jobs in our profession–whether development director or chief development officer–as useful guideposts toward which they can aim.

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