How to Become a Development Director: Career Roadmap

Mar 10, 2020

Find out how to become a development director. Learn about the education and training requirements and the experience you'll need to start and advance your career in development.

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Should I Become 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.

Career Information

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Business, nonprofit administration, or public administration
Experience 4-15 years of fundraising experience
Key Skills Strong verbal and written communication, interpersonal, organizational, problem-solving, and marketing skills; multi-tasking ability; knowledge of contract management and fundraising software; ability to raise funds, write grant proposals, plan events, and build relationships; travel could be required
Median Salary (2020)* $64,661 (for directors of development for a nonprofit)
$53,737 (for entry-level directors of fundraising development)

Source: *

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 degree in business, nonprofit administration, or public administration. Students in these programs might take courses in business, financial, and organizational management. In a nonprofit administration program, students can also 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.
  • 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 experience in these areas.

Step 2: Gain Experience

New graduates can seek out an entry-level position as a development associate for a nonprofit organization. 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 must 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

Development directors can earn master's degrees in fundraising to advance their careers and improve their skills. Master's degree programs in fundraising may include courses in campaign development, grant making, and strategic planning. A capstone project and/or thesis may also be required.

Step 4 - Become Certified

Some employers may prefer development directors with a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) International or similar credential. To obtain certification, candidates usually have to meet education and experience requirements and pass an exam. Additionally, they'll most likely have to become members of the certifying organization before they can apply for certification. Certification processes may also create additional opportunities for career advancement and professional growth.

If you're still interested in becoming a development director, you'll need a bachelor's degree in business, nonprofit administration, or public administration, after which you may earn a median annual salary of $64,661 working for a nonprofit administration. A master's degree in fundraising and a professional certification may help you advance in the field.

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