Development officers are responsible for fundraising on the behalf of colleges, universities and private organizations such as opera houses, cancer foundations and nonprofit entities. As skilled communicators with financial savvy and a flair for forging meaningful business relationships, development officers are expected to work with members of their institution in order to determine the organization’s goals and needs. The development officer must then communicate this vision to potential donors and successfully illustrate how their contributions will bolster the efforts of the organization. Individuals completing the Bachelor of Science in Management Studies degree program may be qualified for employment within the diverse and rewarding field of charitable fundraising, ergo it is beneficial to understand the duties and skills required of a development officer.
Education & Experience
With the exception of colleges and universities, few organizations have the budget for more than a single development professional, which historically has made it difficult to cultivate new development officers in entry level roles. However, as the number of fundraising-dependent organizations continues to grow, many businesses have implemented mid-level positions and apprenticeships in order to meet the growing demand for experienced development professionals. Successful candidates for the position of development officer must have, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree, though select employers may prefer a master’s degree in a relevant discipline, such as a Master of Business Administration. It is also helpful for prospective development officers to have a professional background in finance and a basic understanding of budget management.
As previously stated, the field is highly competitive but experiencing healthy growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by the year 2024, the number of development officer jobs will increase by as much as 7%, creating 4,700 additional jobs nationwide. Development officer salaries vary depending on the type of institution; for instance, the median annual wage for development professionals working for religious and civic organizations was $99,200 in 2016, whereas development officers representing scientific and technical enterprises earned a median annual salary of $133,710.
While development officers act as the primary point of contact between their organization and potential benefactors, they must also be skilled multi-taskers who are able to balance sound financial acumen with creative solutions in order to encourage charitable engagement with their institutions. Typically, a development officer’s responsibilities include:
- Ensuring organizational fundraising benchmarks are met at a reasonable pace
- Constructing and implementing fundraising campaigns and strategies
- Identifying and connecting with potential donors
- Planning and hosting events designed to encourage donation
- Maintaining relationships with important donors
- Writing grant proposals
- Supervising staff, when/if applicable
Development officers are responsible for determining fundraising strategies specific to the types of donations sought. For example, annual campaigns are targeted towards encouraging past donors to give again, while simultaneously recruiting new contacts for donation. Capital campaigns, meanwhile, are intended to raise money in the short term for specific undertakings, such as total seating upgrades in a theatre or a new laboratory facility at a college or university. For those development officers who work on planned giving, it is necessary to have a working knowledge of taxes as they apply to the gifting of stocks, bonds, bequests set forth in a will and so on.
In order to be a successful development officer, there are several competencies the prospective candidate must possess, including but not limited to:
- Communication – As the bulk of the development officer’s role is to connect donors with organizations, it is crucial that the individual possesses excellent verbal communication skills and a propensity for bonding with others. Additionally, strong written communication abilities are necessary for the writing of grants and letters.
- Organization & Scheduling – Development officers are required to keep track of numerous obligations. As such, candidates for the position must be able to maintain a detailed schedule and keep all appointments. Considering how heavily the role depends on successful interpersonal relationships, it is imperative that the development officer avoid constant rescheduling due to oversight; a stand-out candidate knows his or her schedule and manages his or her time down to the second.
- Adaptability – While the development officer is responsible for keeping his or her personal schedule, the corporate world is rife with unexpected stumbling blocks and last minute changes. Particularly when planning donor events, there may be complications with venues, staff or vendors that necessitate the development officer adapt swiftly and rationally. These individuals are quick on their feet and adept at implementing a successful backup plan.
- Energy & Enthusiasm – In the eyes of the prospective donor, the development officer is synonymous with the corporation for which they work. When connecting with benefactors (and soliciting money from them), development officers must display an appropriate level of enthusiasm; low energy denotes disinterest while over-the-top cheerfulness can come across as disingenuous. The successful development officer is alert and engaged, speaks neither too much nor too little, and projects an air of sincerity and trustworthiness at all time.
Traditional Variations of Development Officers
- Grant Writers confer with members of their organization’s board of directors and staff to identify where funding is required and to what extent. The grant writer must then research foundations and individuals who may have an interest in supporting the proposed project before drafting a targeted grant proposal.
- Major Gifts Officers perform, in essence, the same functions as development officers with the notable exception of event planning. Once potential donors have been identified, Major Gifts Officers focus on making relationships with these benefactors and act as the professional point of contact between the individual and the organization.
- Directors of Special Events are responsible for the logistical execution of an organization’s special events. Not only do these individuals cultivate relationships with vendors and venues, but they also have the considerable task of attracting desirable attendees and setting the stage for the Major Gifts Officer to make valuable connections with potential donors.
Development officers are essential to the financial success of the organizations for which they work. The field is unique for its relatively equal distribution of time spent in the office versus efforts devoted to personally engaging with potential donors, which is an attractive prospect for those individuals who value variety in their daily schedule. Ultimately, development officers support the goals of many extremely worthwhile cultural, social and educational institutions that are dependent on charitable donations in order to continue serving communities. The education afforded by a Bachelor of Science in Management Studies program can provide individuals with the necessary communication skills, organizational habits and leadership mindset to become effective development officers who are able to take charge and spur growth within an organization.
As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.
Norwich University’s online Bachelor of Science in Management Studies program is a comprehensive, engaging educational experience that helps produce graduates who are fully prepared for demanding careers in management. Our rigorous curriculum provides you with an all-inclusive study of organizational management concepts, decision-making processes, strategic planning, and fiscal management.
Development Officer in Higher Education, Eric Digests
Public Relations Managers, Bureau of Labor StatisticsJob Bank, Association of Development Officers