What does a Development Director do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The term “development director” is used to refer to a chief financial officer. The term is most commonly seen in the nonprofit sector, where it is used to describe people who are responsible for managing the funds of nonprofits and for working to generate more funds. Someone who works in this job position usually has a degree in finance, public relations, or communications, and may have extensive experience with nonprofits, including experience as an aide or assistant to a development director.

Development directors at nonprofit groups actively seek money from grant makers.
Development directors at nonprofit groups actively seek money from grant makers.

The job of a development director can be a complicated one. It is sometimes described as “fundraising,” but it is actually much more complicated than this. While these directors do need to raise funds and to secure steady supplies and sources of funds, their job is about much more than bringing in money. In fact, some nonprofits have a fundraising director who is separate from the development director, underscoring the difference between the two jobs.

Development directors may focus on regions dealing with extreme poverty.
Development directors may focus on regions dealing with extreme poverty.

Development directors are literally responsible for developing relationships for their parent organizations. They work to maintain strong relationships with existing donors and friends of the organization, and they also seek out new donors and connections which can be used to expand fundraising potential. In addition, these directors are involved in creating a positive image for the organizations they work with and being involved in outreach campaigns which get people interested in contributing and being involved in the activities of the organization.

A development director might do things like organizing donor events, calling donors to maintain relationships with them, initiating mailing campaigns, responding to donor concerns, and so forth. The goal is to develop and keep donors, and to make donors feel positive and happy about their donations and other forms of involvement. This can sometimes be a delicate thing to accomplish, especially with donors who are known for making large contributions, as sometimes donors can develop expectations about what they receive in return for their donations.

The development director also has to think about the most efficient and effective way to apply funds, and to balance the public image of the company at the same time. Nonprofits are often accused of being frivolous or wasting money, and at the same time, they may be expected to come up with things like glossy quarterly magazines, which can be quite expensive to produce. The development director has to consider the character of the organization, the available funds, and the way that donors and the public interact with the organization to strike the right note everywhere from donor solicitation letters to exclusive private fundraising events.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Wow, director of development jobs sound really complicated! It almost sounds like they do an equal amount of marketing as they do financial work. I imagine this job probably wouldn't be for everyone that has a background in finance.

I think you would probably have to be really passionate about your nonprofit organization to want to take on such a big job! Also, I imagine you wouldn't get paid as much to be a development director at a nonprofit as you would to be a chief financial officer at a major corporation. So you'd have to be willing to take a pay cut too.


@JaneAir - People skills do sound like a must for a nonprofit development director. Not only do they have to deal with donors, they have to deal with people they work with and also create a good image their organization.

It seems like a development director would also have to have a really specific set of financial skills too. Because they're not just responsible for managing money, they're responsible for figuring out how to raise it too! So like the article said, a background in both finance and public relations would probably be beneficial for a development director.


You know, I always forget how much schmoozing (for lack of a better word) is involved in the nonprofit sector. A lot of planning goes into raising money to nonprofit organizations! You can't just think of a good cause and wait for the money to start rolling in.

So it seems like good people skills should definitely be part of a development director job description. Because as the article said, part of the job is maintaining relationships with donors to make sure they continue to donate to the organization.

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