Connections for Success



Keys to a Successful Development Department
Sarah G. Widlock

Fundraising can commonly be defined as “the process of gathering voluntary contributions of money or other resources, by requesting donations from individuals, businesses, charitable foundations or governmental agencies.”

Many not-for-profit organizations consider fundraising as their main source of revenue. However, so many organizations fail to focus a significant amount of their energy and resources into their development or fundraising departments. Why is it that hiring, maintaining and training individuals who will focus their efforts on coordinating fundraising initiatives are so far from directors’ minds?

As you can imagine, there is no industry standard for the number of people an entity should have in their development department. There are far too many variables for an across-the-board approach to organizing the development department. In large organizations, a specialized staff in the development department may focus on one way to raise funds. For smaller organizations, the development office may be one part of someone’s job, perhaps supplemented by a supportive group of volunteers who take responsibility for an event or other fundraising projects.

When considering the organization of your development department, you should know and understand what you want to accomplish. Then, you can gauge how many people will be needed and the knowledge and support they will require.

At a minimum, you need a development director or, more suitably titled, a development coordinator. After all, that is what they will be doing: coordinating the fundraising efforts and overseeing the fundraising rather than actually raising money. They will, more than likely, be behind the scenes establishing a structure for effective fundraising.

You then need to decide if a support staff is required. The support can be a designated set of individuals who are responsible for the management and execution of the fundraising campaigns, donor relationships, grant writing, planned giving, etc. Or, it can be the other individuals or support staff that work for the entity.   As the skills needed to carry out a fundraising plan become more specialized, there is less of a likelihood that the organization will find individuals that possess multiples of the skill sets and the larger the staff the organization is likely to need. However, the stronger the role of volunteer leadership among the organization, the fewer number of staff will likely be needed.

Also, when budgeting for your new development department, you want to be sure to include costs beyond the salaries of your development staff, such as software, computer upgrades, costs of more mailings, professional development and cultivation events.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that all staff and board members must continue to stay involved in fundraising for the program to succeed.

For more information on developing your organization’s development department, contact Sarah Widlock at [email protected], or call her at 312.670.7444. Visit to learn more about our Not-For-Profit Group.

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