Best Careers 2009: Fundraiser

US News

Overview. Whether it's for a political party or the Little League, many people like the idea of being a fundraiser, except for one thing: "I could never ask for money." Fact is, only a small percentage of a development (fundraising) professional's time is spent on "the ask."

In fact, the task is often easy if you've built a relationship with the donor and made the donor's involvement in the organization pleasant. Most of a development professional's time is spent recruiting, training, and motivating volunteers, developing a database of donors, conducting research on wealthy prospects to maximize the size of their donations, friendraising ("A Day in the Life," below), writing grant proposals, overseeing E-mail and phone campaigns, and/or running fundraising events, like a splashy gala. The best development professionals naturally inspire trust. They're intelligent but low key and comfortable being self-effacing: That makes donors feel as though they're a cut above. Low-pressure, polished sales managers do well as fundraisers and fundraising managers.

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The job market? While the slowing economy portends lower donations, to date, hiring of fundraisers has continued to grow.

A Day in the Life. As a development director for a college, you probably have among the campus's most plush offices -- the college wants its rainmakers and donors to be comfy. Your morning might start by reviewing prospect dossiers -- corporate executives and other fat cats you'll visit in person. Each dossier, compiled by a staff researcher, identifies the prospect's hot buttons: Is he a sports nut? Then you can hit him up for money for the new football stadium. Is she passionate about the environment? Explain the dire need to expand the library's collection on environmental studies. After brushing up on wills and trusts, off you go to meet your prospects. Both say no, for now -- but that's OK, because "friendraising" is often a necessary prerequisite for fundraising. Back at the office, you review the plan for the annual campaign, which includes telemarketing scripts, direct-mail pieces, and "Dinner With the Profs," a meeting between big donors and the school's best instructors. Finally, you review your website's traffic numbers and work on a plan to tweak the site so it generates more donations.

Salary Data

Median (with eight years in the field): $66,000

25th to 75th percentile (with eight or more years of experience): $54,900-$92,700

(Data provided by

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Generally, fundraisers are trained on the job, although they may take training offered through such organizations as the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Foundation Center .

Smart Specialty

Fundraising for Green Organizations. With environmentalism the Green Giant of causes and America's fastest growing religion, this niche may offer one of the easier routes to landing a good development job and to raising money.

Fundraising for Arts Organizations. Working for a museum, symphony, or theater group allows you to have a life in the arts without becoming a starving artist.

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