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How to Become a Development Director: Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a development director. Research the education and training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in development.

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Do I Want to Be a Development Director?

Development directors create strategies to meet fundraising goals for organizations, such as nonprofit agencies, universities and hospitals. They also build relationships with benefactors and may be required to organize fundraising events. Travel is sometimes required. Stress levels may rise when deadlines for special events draw near.

Job Requirements

Employers prefer that development directors have a bachelor's degree, people skills and writing skills. The following table contains the core requirements for development directors, based on job postings obtained in October 2012:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Business, public administration
Experience 4-15 years of fundraising experience
Key Skills Strong verbal and written communication skills, interpersonal skills, organizational problem-solving skills, multi-tasking ability, marketing skills
Computer Skills Knowledge of contact management and fundraising software
Additional Requirements Ability to raise funds, write grant proposals, plan events and build relationships; travel could be required

Step 1 - Earn a Bachelor's Degree

There are very few undergraduate degrees in fundraising, but aspiring development directors can acquire the skills necessary by pursuing a business degree or a degree in nonprofit administration. Students in these programs might take courses in business management, financial management and organizational management. With a nonprofit administration degree students also can learn how to apply business principles to nonprofit organizations.

Success Tips:

  • Complete an internship. Some schools offer internship programs that can provide firsthand experience in fundraising. Students also might have the opportunity to network and start building relationships through one of these programs.
  • Volunteer. Development directors can get a first-hand view of how nonprofits work by volunteering for one. By joining a fundraising or event planning committee, students can begin to obtain fundraising experience.

Step 2 - Gain Experience

Students can seek out entry-level positions as development associates for nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits often have limited resources and development associates have the opportunity to gain first-hand experience building relationships and planning events on a limited budget. Development associates may also be responsible for writing grant proposals.

Success Tip:

  • Hone your people skills. Development directors are required to build relationships and make compelling arguments to attract potential investors. Individuals can work on their people skills by attending networking events or joining groups such as Toastmasters International that can help improve their communication skills.

Step 3 - Earn a Master's Degree

Individuals can earn master's degrees in fundraising to potentially advance their development skills and careers. Students enrolled in master's degree programs in fundraising may take courses in strategic planning, grantmaking and developing fundraising campaigns. They may also be required to complete a capstone project and/or thesis.

Step 4 - Become Certified

Some employers may prefer that candidates obtain certification through Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) International or a similar organization. To obtain certification, individuals are generally required to pass an exam, as well as meet education and experience requirements. Additionally, individuals generally are required to become members of the certifying professional association before they can apply for certification.

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