If you’re wondering what being a Development Coordinator is all about, here are five aspects of the job that jumped out at me as lessons I’ve learned in five years of working in the field. None of them would have deterred me from being where I am today, but I wish I knew about them before!
1. There’s always work to be done.
There will always be more money to raise, more donors to call, more data to clean up. The work of a Development staffer (and most nonprofit staffers, for that matter) is never done. You need to start your days at work knowing you’ll do the best you can to tackle some of the high priority projects, and be satisfied with what got done at the end of the day. Don’t get bogged down in the big picture of having a huge fundraising goal – break your tasks into manageable chunks and you will go far!
2. You’ll always be part of the supporting cast.
If you love the spotlight, become Program Manager. Development staffers, especially support staff to the Director of Development, are almost always in the background. We’re the ones setting up the registration table, answering questions about auction items, or processing payments – not the ones discussing our passion for the cause or smiling in photos with a big check. When people want to learn about the activities of the organization, they want to hear it from those working directly with the clients, not from administrators (which Development staffers are considered).
3. You will always be known as someone’s assistant.
It might be the Director of Development or it might be the CEO, but as support staff for a Development department, outsiders won’t understand what you do. A Program Assistant will have specific duties that outsiders understand, like managing volunteers, but a Development Coordinator, even if she manages the website, e-newsletter, and does all data entry, she will still be asked about the guest list for the gala. Be secure in the fact that outsiders might not understand that there is plenty of work to be done for more than one person – I’m sure your boss is aware!
4. You’ll be asked to answer phones, fix computers, and deliver checks to be signed.
For some reason the Development department becomes the do-everything-no-one-else-wants-to-do department. At the heart of a Development Coordinator’s role is to improve capacity for an organization… on the surface, that might look like simply to raise money, but it’s really so much more. It means that you’re suddenly the organization’s IT department and you’re asked to hold an Outlook training for the staff because you manage the website, so you must know about computers! Note: Many nonprofit staffers feel they do much more than their job description, so this should be no surprise for anyone!
5. Someone worked very hard on that piece of mail you’re glancing at.
After working a short time in Development you’ll realize that what is commonly referred to as “junk mail” was actually drafted multiple times, reviewed by several people, mail merged, printed, stuffed, sealed, and hand delivered to the bulk mail center at the post office. Being a Development Coordinator has opened my eyes to how much effort is put into a lot of things, including direct mail. It definitely helps me appreciate the little things! Just remember that not everyone has your same experience, so not everyone will treat your mail, or anything else, the same way.
It’s not that being a Development Coordinator is all hard work and no fun. Being support in a Development team is great – you get to get your hands dirty in various projects and talk to donors, the biggest advocates of your cause. Just remember the above five things as you work away and remember that you’re contributing to your organization’s mission, every day. We all should be so lucky.