Realizing the value of the Development professional
Posted on: February 19, 2019 at 2:43 pm

By Karen Kegg

I had a business professor in college who would refer to us fun-loving, extremely extroverted marketing majors as “Do you want fries with that?”  Nice! Granted, he was a finance and business policy guy and I respected him very much, but at the time his attitude didn’t help our confidence as business majors.  Who did he think had the right interpersonal skills to successfully build relationships with clients and prospective clients in order to get a business off the ground? I felt he did not value a marketing person’s desire to be out from behind a desk and get in front of buyers/investors to convince them to buy whatever the business was selling! 

Unfortunately, that same perception of the marketing major of my college days may exist about today’s fundraising professional.  After speaking to Development Officers and other development professionals and hearing stories of how Board members and staff question their expertise, I think that there is a perception that all development folks do is plan parties and send out letters asking for money.  They think, “How hard could it be?”

Well, we all know that’s not the case!  Managing a gala and crafting a successful appeal letter take skills that are vitally important, and so are these traits that successful development professionals possess:

  • Being current on industry best practices;
  • Understanding ever-changing (and often confusing) tax laws;
  • Managing people (donors, staff members, executive directors, and board members, to name a few) and their expectations, and
  • Knowing and practicing ethical fundraising.

There are many facets to the development professional’s job, and continuing to be knowledgeable about the business side of things is crucial to success. 

What other skills are needed to be a valuable development professional?  The following thoughts come from my colleagues at Lee+ Associates:

  • Empathy – the ability to put yourself in the donor’s shoes is a must
  • Patience – it’s called “development” for a reason; it takes time and patience to build relationships on behalf of your nonprofit
  • Perseverance – whether it’s spending time listening and relating to donors or waiting for the Executive Director and the Board to approve your fundraising appeal, a good development professional needs to focus on the end goals
  • Energy – Development Officers work long hours motivating donors, staff and volunteers
  • Passion for the cause – even with all of the above skills and traits, belief in one’s cause and the people it serves is essential for a Development professional to truly be successful and to inspire others to support it.

Clearly, the development professional’s job requires an array of skills and characteristics in order to advance in one’s career and in order to advance the cause he or she serves.