What Is a Development Officer and How Can I Become One?

development officer with a communications degree

Are you looking for a meaningful and rewarding career that would enable you to directly contribute to the success of a nonprofit organization? If so, you might consider pursuing a career as a development officer. What is a development officer and what does a development officer do?

In a nutshell, these professionals are fundraising strategists and coordinators. Learn more about this important role in this career guide and begin planning to earn your business or communications degree.

The Role of a Development Officer

A development officer, also known as a “development director,” is the professional in charge of an organization’s fundraising efforts, also referred to as “development activities.” Development officers typically work for nonprofit organizations, including nonprofit colleges and universities. They are responsible for ensuring their organization receives sufficient funding to carry out its mission.

What Does a Development Officer Do?

Now that you know the broad answer to the question, “What is a development officer?” it’s time to take a closer look at the question, “What does a development officer do during a typical day?” A development officer’s daily routine is dictated by their primary goal of soliciting donations for their organization. They may do any of the following tasks:

  • Plan, organize, implement and evaluate all fundraising activities, including fundraising galas, social media awareness campaigns and direct mail campaigns
  • Attend fundraising events to ensure they proceed as planned and perhaps to deliver prepared remarks to attendees
  • Identify and reach out to potential donors to encourage them to make contributions
  • Cultivate relationships with past donors, ensuring that they are engaged in the organization’s mission and encouraged to make additional contributions
  • Recruit, organize, train and oversee volunteers and paid staff members in the development department
  • Find grant opportunities and write grant proposals
  • Meet with key stakeholders, ranging from volunteers to board members, to keep them advised of the development activities

In some cases, a development officer may meet face-to-face with potential donors. This is especially true of donors who plan to make sizable contributions to the organization. Some development officers place emphasis on soliciting planned giving, which refers to bequests in a donor’s last will and testament.

How To Become a Development Officer

If the answer to the question, “What is a development officer?” appeals to you, then it’s time to take a look at how to become one. If you’re still in high school, talk to your guidance counselor about taking as many relevant classes as possible. Courses in communications, writing, finance and business/nonprofit law will be helpful.

You should also look for opportunities in your local community to work as a volunteer for an established nonprofit. For instance, you might volunteer at an animal rescue or a literacy program for children. Acquiring experience in the nonprofit world at any level can be helpful for your future career.

You’ll need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree after high school. There is no universal requirement regarding which type of bachelor’s degree you should earn, although it’s common for fundraising experts to have a background in communications, business or nonprofit management.

A master’s degree isn’t strictly mandatory, although you may find that having a master’s degree will enable you to pursue higher-level positions. This is particularly true at larger organizations. You might choose to earn your master’s degree immediately after your undergraduate degree, or you might prefer to get right to work and earn your master’s degree later.

The job of a development officer is not an entry-level position. You’ll need to plan on getting at least a few years of experience—and likely closer to eight to 10 years — before you can pursue this senior-level role. Earning a professional certification will help you stand out as a well-qualified candidate.

Earn a Business or Communications Degree

After high school, the first step in the process of becoming a development officer is to earn a bachelor’s degree. There is considerable flexibility regarding the type of bachelor’s degree you can earn for this career path.

Many aspiring fundraisers choose a professional writing program or a communications degree, as fundraising managers need strong skills in these areas. Others opt for a degree in nonprofit management or public relations. Another option is a degree in business, such as finance or business analytics. 

Gain Entry-Level Experience in the Field

After earning a bachelor’s degree, you’ll be qualified to pursue an entry-level position in the field. Look for a position suitable for a new graduate, such as a job as a fundraiser, fundraising coordinator, development associate, nonprofit public relations specialist or social media specialist for a nonprofit. As you gain experience, you may be entrusted with higher-level responsibilities.

To work your way up to the position of development officer, you’ll need to gain some experience managing personnel and directing the activities of volunteers. You should also acquire experience in writing grant proposals, soliciting donations, creating press releases, planning events and giving presentations. A strong work ethic and a solid commitment to the success of your organization may help you climb the ladder.

Consider Earning a Master’s Degree

In addition to acquiring entry-level work experience in the field, you can facilitate your climb up the career ladder by heading back to school. Not all development officer positions require a master’s degree, but some do, and earning one can open more doors to you and may entitle you to a higher salary.

As with your bachelor’s degree, you’ll have some flexibility regarding your choice of master’s degree program. You could choose a master’s degree in communications, professional writing, nonprofit management or business management, for example. 

It’s common for master’s degree programs to require two years of full-time study for completion. If you plan to work while attending school, it may take you longer to graduate. However, you may also qualify for tuition reimbursement from your employer.

Pursue Voluntary Certification in Fundraising

In addition to, or perhaps in lieu of a master’s degree, you may consider earning a professional certification to enhance your career qualifications and help you work your way up to the senior role of development officer. One reputable program is the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) credential, which is administered by CFRE International.

To be eligible for the CFRE credential, you must meet certain academic and work experience criteria. You must also successfully complete a written exam. You’ll need to renew your CFRE certification periodically and complete professional continuing education credits on an ongoing basis.

Another certification option is offered by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). The IABC offers two levels of certification: Communication Management Professional (CMP®) and Strategic Communication Management Professional (SCMP®).

Like CFRE International, the IABC requires that candidates for their credential demonstrate relevant professional training and education, competencies in the field and extensive professional work experience. Before receiving a credential, you must successfully pass an exam. You’ll also need to renew your certification periodically by taking continuing education credits.

Are Development Officers in High Demand?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects that the job growth rate for fundraising and public relations managers will be 13% through 2030. This rate of growth is faster than the average for all professions. It indicates that about 11,300 new job openings will be available for development officers each year through the end of the decade.1

You can begin working toward pursuing a rewarding and meaningful career as a development officer when you join the dynamic learning community at Grand Canyon University. Here, you can choose from multiple degree programs to fit your career goals, including the Bachelor of Science in Business Analytics degree, or programs in communications or professional writing. Use the Request Info button at the top of your screen to begin planning your academic journey at GCU. 


1 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on 2020, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Public Relations and Fundraising Managers 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.