CLAS Industry Spotlight: Nonprofit Development

Are you interested in a career where you can help others? Is it important to you that your work aligns with your core values? You might want to consider a career in the nonprofit sector. This post will specifically highlight the career of an alumnus in nonprofit development (fundraising) and will share general resources for nonprofit careers.

In this post:

Alumni Insights:
Zachary Colombo ’11
Assistant Director of Development at University of California, San Diego (UCSD)
College Major: Political Science
LinkedIn URL:

Why did you decide to pursue a career in nonprofit development?
After graduation, I knew I wanted to work for a cause that I was passionate about. The nonprofit sector was a natural fit for this ambition, so I began searching for opportunities in the field. I started my career at a women’s advocacy foundation in Boston. While there, I was drawn toward development; it was a job that combined two things I loved: building relationships and having a measurable, positive impact. I knew it was where I was meant to be. Once my path was determined, I set my sights on a warmer climate (i.e. San Diego) and was lucky to land a position at UCSD.

What is your favorite part about your job?
Like UConn, UCSD is an amazing, world-renowned institution with top-notch faculty and students. From the moment I stepped foot on campus, it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement of the all research and initiatives happening here. Folks here are truly changing the world for the better, and I get to play a small role in that which is absolutely awesome. As a fundraiser, I also love being in the business of building relationships. I get to meet new people every single day, learn their passions, and help them to make a difference through their philanthropy. It’s incredibly rewarding.

What is a typical day in your job like?
At the end of the day, my job as a development officer is to raise money. The most effective way to do this is to meet with donors, alumni, faculty, and community members face-to-face. On an ideal day, I’d spend as much time as possible out the door talking with these folks – either 1:1 or at events. However, a lot of preparation goes on behind the scenes in order to make these meetings happen. Other days are spent doing donor research, cold calling, or simply improving my knowledge of the university. That’s the beauty of this work – I’m always learning and every day is different.

What skills do you need to succeed as a Development Officer?
Successful fundraisers are confident, passionate, and well-spoken, but the very best are all good listeners. Fundraising isn’t sales. There are a lot of parallels, but key differences. As a salesman or woman, your job is to convince someone why they need your goods or services. As a fundraiser, your job is to ask the right questions and listen to your donor. What’s their story? What’s important to them? What difference do they want to make in the world? Once you know that, your job is to connect them to the right opportunity. Yes – you will ask them for money. But when done right, it won’t feel like a transaction to the donor. They’ll know they are investing in a cause they care deeply about and making a positive impact in the process.

What advice do you have for current students looking to enter this field?
Every university, nonprofit, foundation, and hospital in the country needs to raise money. There’s plenty of opportunity out there. Look for development assistant or coordinator jobs online. I’d also recommend connecting with someone in the field. Go to the development office at UConn or your favorite nonprofit, tell them you’re interested in the field, and ask for an informational interview. Learn what they do. This is a great way to figure out if you’d like the job and build you professional network in the process.

Relevant Articles:
The Huffington Post- Making a Difference: The World of Giving Careers in the Nonprofit Sector by Lisa M. Dietlin

“For this year’s graduates it’s a time of celebration and, for many, concern. A tough economy is only part of it. What to do next? Where to go? What type of life to embark on? I’d like to suggest they look outside the usual paths and consider a career in the nonprofit sector. Think about it. Growing up we’re told we can be doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, even president of the United States. But it’s rare to hear about the wonderful careers in the philanthropic (nonprofit) world. It’s just not on the radar when we consider our choices. And it is not something that career counselors even discuss, let alone raise as a possibility…”


Industry Job Boards
Bloomberg Business
City Limits
Human Service Career Network
Opportunity Knocks
The Nonprofit Times
The Nonprofit Career Chanel

Professional Associations
Association of Fundraising Professionals
National Council of Nonprofits
The Foundation Center
Young Nonprofit Professionals Network

Additional Resources
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

To learn more about nonprofits and NGOs check out this previous blog post: and the Careers for the Common Good page on the Center for Career Development website.

The UConn Center for Career Development does our best to share up to date, relevant resources; however the Center for Career Development does not specifically endorse any of these sites. Before joining an organization, investing in classes, or utilizing a placement agency be sure to check its credentials through additional sources.

By Emily Merritt
Emily Merritt Career Consultant, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Emily Merritt