Nonprofit Technology

How to Shape Nonprofit Development Careers and Fight Turnover at Your Organization

Published by in Nonprofit Technology

Nonprofit development is a challenging, but rewarding, career field. There are plenty of job opportunities, the pay is usually pretty good (even in entry-level positions), and this career field sets your employees up for nonprofit leadership.

Though fundraising work can be rewarding, turnover in fundraising is high. How high?

According to Nonprofit Executive Search, 91% of nonprofit organizations report that fundraising staff turnover is the biggest issue they currently face.

Why is fundraising job turnover so high?

nonprofit development career

Some speculate that it’s because fundraising staff are underfunded and overworked. Others believe it’s because of a lack of quality fundraising talent.

One way to mitigate dissatisfaction among your staff is to provide them with a clear career path that will help them envision and plan for a long career at your organization and resources that will set them up for success as they climb that ladder.

In this piece, I’ll cover the main nonprofit development roles you should include in a career ladder, resources such as books and certifications that will increase industry knowledge, fundraising software options your staff should be familiar with, and support systems you can create to foster their development.

Build a career ladder with these nonprofit development roles

Fighting turnover means giving your employees a reason to stay with your organization beyond earning their paycheck, and one way to do this is to create clear career paths for them to follow.

Here are the positions, descriptions, and average salaries you can use when proposing career paths for your employees:

1. Development coordinator

The development coordinator is the jack-of-all-trades who is responsible for tracking donor money as it comes in, planning and executing special events to fundraise, generating email lists for event planning contacts (such as vendors and volunteers), and coordinating development interns.

Average salary: $43,767

Average years of experience required: Two years

2. Development associate

A development associate is a fancy job title to describe a general fundraiser. They are responsible for contacting, fostering relationships with, and corresponding with potential and current donors. Development associates are the people-savvy communicators that don’t take no for an answer. They work with development coordinators to identify new donors, help plan special events, and record donations when they come in.

Average salary: $51,348

Average years of experience required: Two to three years

3. Grant writer

If writing research reports in school was your strong suit, then working as a grant writer might appeal to you. Grant writers gather research and write proposals for nonprofit organizations to acquire funding from foundations, for-profit companies, and government agencies. The strengths of a grant writer should include written communication skills, research skills, and serious organizational skills to compile all of the data necessary to make a case for funding.

Average salary: $67,291

Average years of experience required: Three to four years

4. Major gift officer

The major gift officer is the next step up from development associate. Rather than cultivating large numbers of smaller donors, a major gift officer focuses on prospective donors who are able to give large donations to the organization. They maintain communication and foster relationships with these major givers through in-person meetings, special events, and phone conversations, so socially inclined individuals are preferred for this position.

Average salary: $63,388

Average years of experience required: Five years

5. Director of development

It doesn’t get any higher in development, short of running an entire nonprofit organization, than the director of development. The director organizes and runs the entire fundraising strategy of a nonprofit organization. They create and implement fundraising plans, develop public relations campaigns, and report fundraising results to senior leadership. This position not only requires significant time and experience in multiple aspects of fundraising, but also a disposition for leadership and organization.

Average salary: $111,404

Average years of experience required: Five to six years

Give your staff the resources they need to develop their careers

Now that your employees know which roles are available and what each one entails, it’s time to prepare them to work their way up the career ladder you’ve laid out.

Below is a list of resources that’ll get your staff up to speed on the ins-and-outs of fundraising, including books they should read, certification courses they should take, and software options they should familiarize themselves with.

Let’s start with reading materials.

Books to read

These books are a part of my larger list of fundraising books that all nonprofit professionals ought to read. Once your staff finish these three, be sure to check out the rest!

1. “Fundraising for Social Change”

This frequently updated fundraising guide will provide you with all kinds of donor retention strategies, low-cost fundraising methods, and experimental fundraising methods using new technologies.
Amazon rating: 4.5/5 stars

2. “It’s Not Just About Money: How to Build Authentic Major Donor Relationships”

Learn where the large donors are, how to nurture relationships with them, and how to keep them on board. This is the perfect book for the aspiring major gifts officer.
Amazon rating: 5/5 stars

3. “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications”

Want to learn how to use effective communication skills when soliciting donations? Jeff Brook’s book on fundraising communication will teach you all kinds of strategies, including speaking and writing styles, that you can use to acquire new donors.
Amazon rating: 5/5 stars

Certification classes

The career path your employee decides to take in the nonprofit development field will determine the certifications they should pursue. Below is a list of two certifications for each particular skill needed in each career field, all of which would benefit those looking to end up as a director of development.

Grant writing

1. Grant Writing for Nonprofit Organizations

Price: $499

This is the beginner-level, self-paced course on grant writing offered by the American Grant Writers Association. It covers grant research, proposal writing, budgeting around grants, and writing letters of inquiry. This course requires no prior grant writing, research, or budgeting experience and upon completion, students receive a certificate of completion.

2. Grant Writing for Government Grants

Price: $499

The American Grant Writers Association offers this self-paced course as a more advanced dive into grant writing, which covers government offered grants, the federal regulations that govern these grants, writing proposals for these grants, and how to structure your budgets around these grants. While there are no required prerequisites, a bachelor’s degree and experience in grant writing are recommended.


1. Professional Fundraising Certificate Program

Price: $2,495

The course from Boston University covers a number of fundraising topics including annual giving, special events, prospect research, technology-enabled fundraising, and major gifts. This program doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree, but if you lack one, work-related experience is recommended.

2. Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) Credential

Price: $875

The CFRE is not an educational program. It is an assessment-based credential that measures your knowledge and ability in fundraising (like an SAT for philanthropic fundraising). This is the certification you seek after you’ve learned all about fundraising through other classes, like the Boston University Professional Fundraising Certificate Program. There are four testing windows per year to sign up for, and upon completion you receive your CFRE.


1. Leadership Certificate Program

Price: The price for this program is not specified on their website. Instead, they prompt you to submit a “letter of intent” to join the program and they will correspond with you on additional details, including price.

This program is the perfect introduction to concepts of leadership for those looking to head up a team in their field. If you’re looking to become a director of development, this program and its courses will teach you leadership concepts such as complex problem solving, strategic communication, and creating visions for your team to follow. This program gives you the choice of three core courses and three elective courses out from their course list, giving you a tailored experience in your program.

2. Strategic Organizational Leadership Certification (SOLC)

Price: $299.95

The Strategic Organizational Leadership Certification (SOLC) offers you a self-paced educational experience that covers all kinds of leadership concepts. Unlike the Leadership Certificate Program, the SOLC isn’t tailored, but instead offers a general understanding of leadership, including strategy and diplomacy, leadership styles, risk management, SWOT analysis, and hierarchy concepts.

Fundraising tools they should be familiar with

Supercharge the fundraising know-how of your staff by familiarizing them with some of the most popular fundraising software options on the market today. I’ve pulled the five most popular fundraising software options in the Capterra directory that are specifically geared toward nonprofit fundraising.

Keep in mind that while this isn’t necessarily a requirement for jump-starting a development career, it doesn’t hurt to get a head start.

1. Blackbaud: Raiser’s Edge NXT

Blackbaud is the most popular fundraising software on the market according to our directory, and for good reason. Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge offers all kinds of features including donor management, donation reports, mobile payment processing, and even unique features such as fundraising event management capabilities.

2. Frontstream

Frontstream is not as feature heavy as Blackbaud, but it offers donor management features, email campaigns, donation reporting, and unlimited phone/email support.

3. DonorPerfect

DonorPerfect has plenty of standard and unique features such as contact management, social media integration, donation reports, and gift matching.

4. MemberPlanet

Along with standard fundraising features, MemberPlanet presents itself as the fundraising software for easier donor communication. This software options offer broadcast texts and emails for quick fundraising shoutouts to your donor pool, email newsletter generators, and a mobile app for on-the-go fundraising management.

5. NeonCRM

NeonCRM started as an open-source software system and has since grown into a fully fledged fundraising and donor management platform. NeonCRM offers donor management features, donation reports and tracking, and email campaign creation features.

Set up a mentoring program

Finally, it’s important to set up a support infrastructure for your fundraising staff. A mentoring program is perfect for your employees to establish role models within your organization, seek out career wisdom, and further their own careers through mentor guidance.

In fact, 75% of private sector executives say that mentors were crucial in their own career development.

Your mentoring program should match employees with mentors in their own development career path, whether that be grant writing, gifts management, or directing a fundraising department. Choose professionals within your organization that have a track record of success.

Once you’ve selected your mentors, create user profiles for them so that potential mentees can browse and find the right match for them. Don’t forget to also gather feedback from your mentors as your employees progress through their mentorship.

There is so much more that goes into mentor/mentee programs that I can’t fit into this piece. For an in-depth guide on starting a mentoring program, be sure to read Chronus’ piece on the subject.

Other nonprofit development and fundraising resources

Providing a career path and resources to help employees climb the ladder will help you mitigate the chronic problem of fundraising staff turnover. Not only will you see a drop in turnover, but the additional training and attention will also increase fundraising staff morale and employee productivity.

Now that your employees are on their way in their development careers, the learning doesn’t stop there. The Capterra nonprofit technology blog is full of fundraising resources that’ll help them in their day-to-day job, including software lists, how-to guides, checklists, and trends pieces.

Looking for Nonprofit software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Nonprofit software solutions.

About the Author

Nick Morpus

Nick Morpus

Nick Morpus is a former Capterra analyst.


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