Working in the development area for a non-profit organization can be described in many ways. Some call it friend-raising, others call it fund-raising. Pat Mathis, director of development for Metropolitan Family Services, a Chicago-based organization that has been helping families for more than 150 years, says, in some ways, "Development is a matchmaker service, where we identify people who are interested in our cause and match up their needs and desires with the needs of the organization and the people you serve."
"Our main job is donor development and fund-raising," says Mathis. "We are the sales arm of the charitable organization -- selling our services and programs. We ask people to invest their time and financial support in us so we can help others," Mathis notes.
If you really enjoy people, love selling and have a big heart, Mathis says development in the non-profit sector is a great job. "We get to know what inspires our donors -- their motivations, hopes and dreams -- and what they want to do with their money. It can be complex and often a balancing act, but it is very rewarding," she adds.
"I don't know if there is a typical day in development. There is always variety and it is very fast paced," says Mathis, who has worked for other non-profit organizations including United Way, Metropolitan Family Services, Abraham Lincoln Center, Advocate Charitable Foundation and Prevent Blindness. She says, "The development function at Advocate, for example, was very sophisticated and compartmentalized. Development staff were dedicated to specific functions such as annual giving programs, appeals, grant writing or events. Staff members were assigned to mid-tier donors and others worked with major donors."
In other non-profits, Mathis did a little bit of everything from developing and maintaining mailing lists, planning direct mail campaigns and writing proposals to planning events and meeting with donors.
Kate Bousum, manager of development at Child's Voice, an organization dedicated to helping children with hearing loss become successful in all educational and social settings, has had similar experiences. "There is always something new and challenging. Social media has added a new dimension to our jobs. In my current position, I wear many different hats. I love it." Bousom has been working in non-profit for 10 years. She started her career as a telethon caller. "I responded to a job opening for Elmhurst College's Annual Fund Phone-a-thon. My role snowballed from Annual Fund to working as alumni director, organizing special events and reunion giving."
In the non-profit world, many organizations put a lot of effort into special events from golf outings to galas. "Special events have always been a big part of the job and my career as well. Everybody thinks of fundraising as hosting fun and elaborate events, but it is much more," says Bousum. She says events are a good way to cultivate donors and expose new people to an organization, but are the most expensive way to raise money. Development staff often work with volunteers, boards and committees in planning events. Tasks can include finding the right venue, selecting menus and entertainment, soliciting for donations and sponsorships, promoting the event, and, of course, working the event. "There's high burn-out in this area for a reason. It requires a lot of detail work and it's very intense. It takes a lot of people, planning and long hours," notes Bousum.
Many non-profit organizations rely on public and private grants to support their programs and services. Bousum loves this aspect of her job. She says every grant form and template is different. "There's a special science to grant writing," she says. "You need to provide very specific information and be clear and concise in your writing. You have to be able to measure and quantify the impact you make." But the effort pays off. "For every ten grants you write, you can get nine no's and one yes. But that one yes is very rewarding," adds Bousum.