Skip to content


Development operations or development infrastructure are the systems and practices that function behind the scenes on a fundraising team. They are things like clarifying your team’s division of labor, prospect research, gift processing, gift acknowledgment, and data administration. 

If we think of infrastructure as the business of running the development shop, ESEs can consider merging development business with social-enterprise administration. For example, the process of managing a major gift portfolio could use the same tools as the process of managing a business prospect portfolio. If the organization has invested in software to manage their business prospects, the same could be used for major donor prospects. Ultimately, you will find that this overview is focused on lean infrastructure–building a well-oiled machine that does not overcomplicate your business.

If you take one thing away from this overview, let it be this: Fundraising infrastructure exists for the sake of front line efficiency and performance visibility. Nothing else. You may be tempted to use development operations to build a well-oiled machine, but sometimes we make the mistake of building machines that distract us rather than save us time. As a result, we spend more time on the business of fundraising rather than fundraising. The following guide is designed to help you make decisions about what infrastructure is necessary for the stage of growth of your organization.


Infrastructure: The systems and processes that function behind the scenes to create a well-oiled machine for fundraising.

CRM: Customer Relationship Management system, a donor database.

Collateral: Material to share with donors that activates their giving.

Prospect Research: The work of identifying new donors.

Upstream Metrics: The goals you set related to daily activities that are designed to result in revenue growth. Examples include: number of prospects managed, number of donor touchpoints, and number of proposals submitted.

Impact Reporting: Reports generated for donors that demonstrate progress on program goals.

Donor Segmentation: Organizing lists of donors into categories for the purpose of customizing communication. Common segments are related to recency of giving, frequency of giving, and giving level.

Why is it important?

Many organizations choose complicated development infrastructure that is premature for their stage of maturity. For example, they invest in Salesforce when a Google spreadsheet may be more manageable for the size of their donor base and team. The level of complexity will vary within the following four categories of development infrastructure: talent, technology, processes and systems, and communications.

A healthy investment in a scaling fundraising operation averages to be $0.20-$0.30 to raise $1.00. During seasons of investment in a new strategy or building an existing strategy, that expense can increase. In order to help you determine your cost to raise a dollar, we have developed the following worksheet

As you are considering each of the four categories of infrastructure, consider how investing in that category would bring your investment to the “healthy” range of $0.20-$0.30 to raise $1.

Talent/Division of labor

The most important decision you make in the category of talent is: how can we clearly communicate our division of labor?

Our best recommendation is to make a table that lays out the goals each person is responsible for and the decisions each person makes.

Division of Labor
Job Title
Who They Report To
Goals They’re Responsible For
Decisions They Make

The size of your development team is correlated to your cost to raise $1 rather than the size of your contributed revenue goals. In other words, if your cost to raise $1 is low, it is likely that you can stand to invest in growing your team. As you grow, the following roles and responsibilities are available to you:

CEOBoard of DirectorsAllRemoves obstacles that hinder the development program; champions the intrinsic value of fundraising within the organization and sector
Chief Development OfficerCEOAllCreates the vision, mission, and strategy for the development function
Director, Major GiftsChief Development OfficerMajor GiftsDevelops, implements, and maintains a robust major gift program that also includes outreach and engagement of planned giving efforts
Major Gifts OfficerDirector, Major GiftsMajor GiftsManages major gift portfolio to achieve key revenue goals
Portfolio SpecialistDirector, Major GiftsMajor GiftsCoordinates the portfolio activity of the Executive Director and Development Officer, conducting prospect research, creating team reports, processing gifts and acknowledgments, proposal writing, and managing various processes within the development program
Annual Giving Manager (Director of Direct Response)Chief Development OfficerAnnual GivingGuides and directs the strategy, development, and execution of annual and long-range plans for segmented direct fundraising
Database ManagerAnnual Giving ManagerAllManages CRM for donor data across all donor types
Manager of Corporate SponsorshipsChief Development OfficerCorporate SponsorshipsDesigns and implements strategies to attract and maintain corporate cash and in-kind gifts
Fulfillment SpecialistManager of Corporate SponsorshipsCorporate SponsorshipsResponsible for all deliverables related to sponsorship programs and growing corporate relationships
Events SpecialistChief Development OfficerEventsResponsible for creating transformational experiences through fundraising events
Grant OfficerChief Development OfficerGrantsResponsible for the relationship with the grantmakers
Grant WriterChief Development OfficerGrantsAligns the grant program with the organization’s overarching fundraising plan, writes grants, manages grant reporting
Development Operations SpecialistChief Development OfficerAllPerforms administrative, logistic, and communication functions for the entire team
Donor Relations ManagerChief Development OfficerAllMaintains retention rates across all donor types
Outsourced Options: Direct response execution (copywriting, design, etc.); Digital marketing; Website development; Graphic design; Video development


Key technology includes:

  • Tool for tracking donor data
  • Tool for managing donor portfolio
  • Online giving platform
  • Email management system

The decision on which of these to invest in depends on the strategies you have chosen. For example, an organization operating a major gift and grants strategy may not need a CRM. Instead, they can track donors in a spreadsheet. These two strategies will also not demand a sophisticated online giving platform as many of their gifts will not come in through their website. Overall, it is important to make decisions about investing in technology that align with the strategies you have chosen. 

Processes and systems

Key processes and systems include:

  • Prospect research
  • Gift acknowledgment and thanking
  • Donor data and performance reporting
  • Impact reporting 

Each of these processes and systems should be established regardless of the stage of growth of an organization. The level of complexity will increase as you grow. 

Prospect research:

Major Donor Prospect Research: A qualified major donor prospect has capacity and propensity to give a major gift. Capacity is determined by a wealth screening or other indicators of wealth found online or through word of mouth. Propensity is determined by whether or not the prospect has given philanthropically in the past to any organization. 

Major donor prospects are found in one of three ways: introductions through connectors, screening your current donor base, and cold research. 

  • Introductions through connectors can be operationalized by hosting connector events or asking your board and other donors to make routine introductions. 
  • Screening your current donor base or customer base can be done on a quarterly basis through a donor screening tool like Donor Search or WealthEngine. 
  • The most effective cold research technique is to look at the annual reports of similar organizations and use LinkedIn to identify connections to the donors listed. It is also possible to purchase a list of prospective major donors who have recorded history of giving to like-minded organizations in your area. 

Annual Giving Prospect Research: Also called “lead generation,” this requires content development that communicates the case for support–specifically, the urgency around the problem you are solving. Lead generation should be operationalized through a content calendar and specific assets that compel people to provide their contact information. 

Events Prospect Research: Event guests are acquired through your base audience. Peer-to-peer invitations also work, but event fundraising hinges on having an active existing base of followers/supporters/donors.

Grants Prospect Research: Grant prospects are acquired through:

  • Researching other organizations’ funders published on their websites, annual reports, or other collateral.
  • Google research using search terms related to your program focus, such as “workforce development funders.”
  • Looking up the association of funders within your state. Most states have associations that foundations belong to and their membership is posted publicly.
  • Subscribing to a grant search engine like “Candid.”

Corporate Sponsorship Prospect Research: Corporate sponsors are found through similar methods as major donors. One additional resource would be a local chamber of commerce directory that provides names of community-engaged businesses.

Gift acknowledgment and thanking

See Seed’s Gift Acknowledgement Overview for recommendations

Donor data and performance reporting

See Seed’s Reporting Checklist for recommendations on data points to track

Impact reporting 

See Seed’s Reports and Collateral Examples for ideas on how to format an impact report


The work of operationalizing development communications refers to:

  • Creating pieces of collateral necessary for each fundraising strategy (brochure for major donors, welcome series for annual donors, sponsorship brochure for corporate sponsorship, etc)
  • Optimizing the organization’s website for donor conversion
  • Coordinating the efforts of the marketing team and the development team
  • Creating boilerplate language to be used in each fundraising strategy (grant language library, major donor fundable one-pagers, events invitations, etc)

Scaling your infrastructure

The following milestones are necessary to prepare your fundraising infrastructure to scale:

Establish scalable CRMAirtable is built for our two strategies; data is migrated; staff is trained; reports and dashboards are built
Establish scalable giving toolDonately replaces PayPal; forms are customized and integrated into website and connected to CRM; existing PayPal donors are transitioned to Donately
Establish scalable email marketing toolMailchimp replaces Constant Contact; segments are set up and integrated with Airtable; automatic emails are set up
Establish scalable integrationsZapier is used to connect and automate flow of data from Mailchimp to Airtable, from Donately to Airtable, and from Wix to Airtable
Optimize website for conversionDonate button is added to all pages, scrolling “subscribe now” box is added to all pages, “Donate Now” page is revised to align with Seed’s checklist, Invitation to Impact and Belonging is embedded on the home page and giving page
Establish scalable automations for donor communicationAutomatic receipt sent by Donately is customized to match Seed’s example; End of year receipt process is built into Airtable; Airtable alerts donor relations specialist when a thank you note is needed
Optimize database for segmentationCRM is set up to automatically code donors according to segment list in Mailchimp; segment reports can be pulled
Establish automated welcome sequenceWelcome sequence is drafted; welcome sequence is automated in Mailchimp and each of the 3 pieces are tracked as “sent” in Airtable
Clarify/document gift acknowledgement and recording processGift acknowledgement process is documented and roles are assigned; automations are set up so that Donately sends receipt and activity is tracked in Airtable
Establish/clarify donor relations processesA donor relations checklist is created for each strategy and assigned to appropriate team members; A donor relations guide is drafted for the organization
Establish reporting dashboard to improve visibility on performanceDashboard is set up in Airtable to include all revenue metrics and upstream metrics; metrics are set up for live update
Clarify/document data management processesData management protocol is drafted; team is clear on data management tasks; data cleanup days are scheduled quarterly
Establish quarterly impact reporting processesTemplate is created; field data is coming in on time; duties are assigned to relevant team members; report is sent to donors quarterly; quarterly data review is held by program team
Revise/create collateral that communicates fundables and invitationsFundable one-pagers are created; fundraising intro brochure is revised and reprinted with new invitation language

Staffing considerations

The most important role in scaling the operations of a development team is the Development Operations Specialist.

Development Operations Specialist: The Development Operations Specialist plays a critical role in helping support a robust development department. This position is responsible for helping create and support a comprehensive fundraising program for your organization. This role performs administrative, logistic, and communication functions for the development department.

Click Here for Seed’s Job Description repository.

Additional Resources: Do you want to spend more time on this?

5 min: Review Seed’s Gift Acknowledgement Overview

5 min: Review Seed’s Gift Acknowledgement Samples

5 min: Review Seed’s Reporting Checklist

5 min: Review Seed’s Reports and Collateral Examples

10 min: Review Seed’s Website Checklist

25 min: View Seed’s online microcourse on Development Operations.

1 hour: Calculate your organization’s cost to raise a dollar.

About Seed

Seed is a community of professional fundraisers and nonprofit leaders who strengthen and scale culture-building institutions in the social sector. Seed’s consulting team has supported REDF’s portfolio since 2019.