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What’s the Difference Between Fundraising, Development, and Advancement?

Development vs Fundraising vs Advancement

Perhaps you’re looking in the nonprofit sector for your first job or considering a career change; maybe you’re a seasoned pro seeking a new role. In each case, you may see job titles like “Chief Advancement Officer,” “Vice President for Development,” or “Senior Philanthropy Officer.” You know they are related to fundraising, but what is the difference between these roles and what aligns best with your skills and experience?

To cut through the fog, we’ll review the areas of “fundraising,” “development,” and “advancement” and explain what each area encompasses.

What is advancement?

Put most simply, advancement is the act of getting ahead, of progressing. Applied to the nonprofit world, it’s the overarching plan for moving an organization forward through a comprehensive approach including fundraising, constituent relationships, marketing and communications, and other functions. Advancement could be a college’s strategic plan, an organization’s business plan, or a museum’s vision statement for the next five years—whatever the organization may define as its strategy for moving from where it is today to where it wants to be in the future. That is how the organization will advance, and the advancement team helps accomplish that vision.

A strong advancement team is holistic in its approach to achieving its goals. Depending on institutional size, the leadership (i.e., Chief Advancement Officer or Senior Vice President for Advancement) often oversees an organization’s communications, brand management, and public affairs, as well as development and fundraising.

Depending on the organization’s mission, advancement also holds responsibility for key groups in its nonprofit community such as school alumni, grateful patients in a hospital, or member services in a museum. Advancement may also include enrollment management, career advising, and board relations, as well as externally focused IS/IT teams, data and analytics, and finance and operations teams. A person in a leadership advancement role might have a business background or focus, with a wide variety of skills and expertise relevant to the nonprofit sector. This person often has a direct report to the President or CEO and sits on the leadership team with other C-suite professionals.

Examples of advancement job titles

Take a look at the examples of the job titles listed below to see what we mean:

  • Chief Advancement Officer
  • Associate Dean of Advancement
  • Vice President for Institutional Advancement
  • Associate Head of External Relations
  • Executive Director, Alumni Association

What is development?

Development is one of the components of a comprehensive advancement team and reflects proactive work to develop a wide range of resources for the organization. While fundraising is a critical element of an organization’s strategic plan and an advancement team’s goals, it’s not the only piece of the puzzle. The development team is responsible for fundraising, constituent relations, and often communications and operational services, including prospect research and stewardship.

You will find individuals who are managing donor portfolios and actively soliciting annual, major, planned/estate, and principal gifts from individuals, foundations, and corporations working side-by-side with people who coordinate events, write grants, and drive a strong social media presence. You will also find a range of roles focused on securing revenue from corporate and foundation sources, from grants to sponsorships to cause marketing, as some of these revenue and marketing sources fall beyond traditional nonprofit philanthropy.

Also important is that not everyone who works in development is external facing nor directly involved in asking for money. For example, critical roles for a successful development shop include colleagues who process gifts, produce acknowledgments, activate cause marketing, work with development data and analytics, and write donor or funder reports. Last but not least, there may be individuals whose focus is entirely on volunteers, from working with the organization’s governing board on governance, nominating, and development to working with the Alumni Association, Parent Association, Board of Visitors, Grateful Patient Council, or other representative groups.

Overall, development encompasses creating the environment for strong relationships that lead to financially investing in and developing an institution or charity, whether it be the internal processes and procedures or the external work of engaging constituents in meaningful ways designed to inspire philanthropy and support. Many organizations also use the term development in job titles that handle many of the fundraising functions outlined below, believing it’s a term that’s more acceptable to donors and external stakeholders.

Examples of development job titles

Sample job titles in development include:

  • Chief Development Officer
  • Vice President of Corporate Partnership
  • Senior Executive Director for Development Services
  • Executive Director of Development

What is fundraising?

“Fundraising” may be the most straightforward of the three terms. A fundraiser is someone who seeks support for an organization or cause. Depending on the type of gift, a fundraiser may work with a mass-market audience, nurture a mid-level program, or develop relationships with major donors or institutional funders. Within each of these functions, their tactics for raising funds differ. A fundraiser responsible for an organization’s annual fund, for example, may prepare email and social media campaigns, while someone leading a mid-level program may organize in-person or online events focused on engagement and stewardship. The major gift officer will be focused on identifying ways to connect donors with the organization’s key funding opportunities.

You may see positions such as Major Gift Officer, Senior Philanthropy Officer, or Director of Development—these titles are often viewed as interchangeable as they typically include the management of a portfolio of donors. While every organization defines a major gift at a different level, this work is usually focused on the highest levels of giving; larger organizations may also recognize “principal” gifts at levels above seven figures. Fundraising officers are responsible for developing relationships between an individual and an organization that inspire the prospective donor to support an organization at a significant and sometimes transformational level. These relationships require time, thoughtful engagement of key stakeholders throughout the organization, and a keen understanding of an organization’s priorities and a donor’s passion. Gift officers can find themselves soliciting six-, seven-, eight-, and nine-figure gifts from individuals, couples, entire families, or family foundations.

Fundraising also encompasses more targeted approaches that may need special professional expertise. Most organizations also typically have a parallel set of functions related to seeking support from institutional funders such as corporations, private foundations, or even government agencies, led perhaps by a Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations who manages funder relationships and grants. To reach audiences of individuals who make smaller dollar gifts through mail and digital channels, some charities have significant Direct Response and Direct Mail teams that apply retail marketing expertise to fundraising.

Finally, many organizations also have roles such as Director of Gift Planning to encourage and enable individual donors to make what are called “legacy” gifts through their wills, trusts, estate plans, or retirement plan beneficiary designations. These legacy gifts often offer tax benefits to individuals, and professionals with legal training may transfer their skills to rewarding careers in the nonprofit arena.

Across these fundraising functions the common element is that gift officers and fundraising professionals are charged with balancing what a donor or funder wants to accomplish with their philanthropy and what an organization needs in pursuit of its goals and mission statement. When a fundraiser does their best work, they engage donors and funders in productive ways that benefit the organization’s mission and ensure positive relationships with the institution. Fundraisers come and go, and, when they do, ideally that departure does not interrupt the relationship with the institution.

Examples of fundraising job titles

Examples of job titles related to fundraising include:

  • Senior Philanthropy Officer
  • Associate Vice President of Major and Principal Gifts
  • Assistant Vice President, Principal and Transformational Gifts
  • Executive Director for Leadership Gifts
  • Executive Director of Trusts, Estates, and Gift Planning
  • Senior Director, Foundation Development
  • Director, Annual Giving

Understanding the distinction

As the terms have been laid out, “advancement” can be seen as the larger team focused on development, fundraising, marketing, communications, and operations. Members of the development team can work in a variety of capacities that affect the donor experience. Fundraising is the team charged with developing relationships or securing revenue to accomplish the organization’s strategic plan.

These distinctions may be clearer in larger organizations where staff can specialize. For instance, a gift officer will focus on managing their portfolio while an advancement services specialist will focus on running reports and managing the database. In smaller nonprofits, someone may hold both fundraising and broader advancement duties. They may plan annual celebrations, deploy email campaigns, and manage relationships with volunteers while carrying a donor portfolio.

Find your next leader or role

Whether you’re a hiring manager studying the differences between advancement, development, and fundraising so you can write the most accurate job description, a nonprofit leader looking to propel your career forward, or a professional looking to transition into the nonprofit sector, understanding the structure of the advancement field is a worthwhile endeavor.

For more than 25 years, Lindauer has been a leader in nonprofit executive search with a commitment to partnering with organizations to secure the best talent they can while placing world-class executives in leadership roles to maximize their impact and leverage their talent and experience.

Find out more about Lindauer’s services.

Written by Lindauer Executive Vice President Libby Roberts and Assistant Vice President Megan Abbett.

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