Nonprofit Development: Supporting from Behind the Scenes

Nonprofit Development Department: Supporting the Mission from Behind the Scenes

December 31, 2016
3 minutes
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One of the similarities between for-profit and nonprofit organizations is in their equal goals of determining what, where, and how the organization pursues its goals. While both drive the same goals, they separate when we look at the terminology used to explain them. At a for-profit company, the marketing department is the key driver, while in a nonprofit organization, the development office is responsible for many of these same duties.

Knowing the basics as we look at the development department activities will assist you when it comes time for planning the staffing and responsibilities for this critical office to the organization.

The Development Department

In short, this department is responsible for the acquisition of funds that helps to keep your organization afloat. This department is the one tasked with paying for an office, office supplies, payroll, and, most importantly, managing the payments to the nonprofit’s programs. 

The development department must deal with a variety of revenue sources that support the programs. Everything from individual donations (making up about three-quarters of all charitable giving), to other sources, including public and private grants, corporate sponsorships, and events, to name a few.

You can view your own organization’s primary fundraising channels in your annual reports to give you some insight into the variety of sources the development department works with.

A personalized approach to revenue sources

The ultimate goal of the development department is to fund your organization’s work. This can only be done by approaching each revenue source individually, as they differ somewhat in their management of fundraising. You may have one person working exclusively on fundraising events (annual gala, charity runs/walks, etc.). 

The process to see these through to fruition is markedly different than another member of the staff that works specifically to arrange major gifts (large individual donations that typically require extended periods of time of communication and cultivation).

On the other hand, you’ve got a completely separate set of requirements your grant writer will need to work with. They will spend most of their time researching grant opportunities, filling out applications, and registrations continuously.

The primary fundraising sources at your organization will basically determine what the development department devotes the majority of their time to. If your development team consists of one or two people on staff, they most likely will be wearing many hats juggling responsibilities often throughout the day.

Development Department activities during a fundraising campaign

While the public sees your campaigns as annual or quarterly when aggressive fundraising seasons occur, your development department is continuously working in the background year-round in the planning, execution, and follow-up to each event held.

In order to see an event come together from a Development Department perspective, the following is included when discussing the stages of a fundraising campaign:

Planning and promotion

The development department staff creates their communication schedules, including all appeals and updates for the supporters. Additionally, this department will plan promotional efforts, goals, and engagement activities.


Prior to your official campaign public go-live date, your development team will appeal to the organization’s most ardent supporters and friends in an effort to create and show momentum when the official launch is made.

Public Go-live date

This is the actual date the campaign is launched officially. Your online presence is updated on the website and all social media channels, as well as appeals made via email marketing.

Campaign Active Period

Whether a 24hr campaign or a month-long event, this is the active body of the fundraiser. Development staffers will have already set sub-goals in an effort to monitor and keep on track. This includes planning for mid-campaign slumps by releasing new appeals or engagement opportunities.

Dedication to the very end of the campaign

In most campaigns, there is a strong push towards the deadline as the rate of donations need this support to pick up more donations. The development department will definitely feel the pressure during this final push. Much like a road race, the finish line is in view, and the excitement is near its peak.

Post campaign appreciation and follow-up

While the campaign may have ended in the public’s eye, there is much to do now for the next stage. Saying ‘thank you’ to each individual donor and stewarding them accordingly is a huge responsibility for the development office team. Technology today will handle the broad campaign ‘thank-you for your donation’ official email response, but it is equally important to send more personalized messages to keep donors updated on the impact of their donations from the campaign.  

Supporting your Development Department

You should have an understanding of what the development department accomplishes throughout the course of a campaign, at the very least. It's as good a time as any right now to think about ways to support them as they are equally overworked in a nonprofit world. Below are a few tips to support your organization’s development department succeed:

Share your awesome stories

People are conditioned to respond to emotional stories. Share any stories you may have from the field that are fun or heart-warming. It could provide excellent content for the next campaign.

Always be communicating

It is important to keep the development team in the know about all the activities going on, including, for example, presentations of new evidence of donor’s impact or hurdles that have come up from donor feedback, etc. You both must speak to supporters and donors, so it is important to speak with one voice in an effort to maintain consistency in the message.

Donor and Funder Interactions

It is good to keep the development department in the loop on your interactions with donors and funders as it can be a process to complete a major gift transaction. The development department will always be appreciative of your communication to them regarding a sponsor’s activity in an effort to establish even stronger relationships and to adjust accordingly if it is needed.

Final thoughts

While it may come across as not the most exciting of offices in a nonprofit, their efforts are absolutely essential and indispensable. The development department, regardless of your role, is there to support you by primarily sourcing the funds needed to keep the organization running. Every department is reliant on the development team to succeed, and they will only succeed by relying on you for support.

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