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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 8.1


Office Structures

Countless publications address effective office and management structures, and the model you choose will be dependent on many factors, such as the size of your team, its position in the institution’s overall management structure, the culture of your organisation and your strategic goals.

Before you determine the exact structure, consider some basic principles that have particular relevance for development offices.


The route to the top

As the director of development, the people to whom you report – directly and indirectly – should already be established. However, you should also ensure that there is a regular, direct communication route to the institution’s leader and that you fully understand the vision and priorities set by the leader.

For an institution’s development office to succeed, it needs access to the institution’s leader as well as his or her backing, involvement and leadership. The leader is a member of the development team rather than someone who is drafted in on an ad hoc basis to host events and meet donors.

Make sure there are also clear guidelines on interacting with other leadership, boards and senior members of staff.

The director of development

As the director of development, you are responsible for:

  • Setting the strategy (based on the vision and priorities set by the institution’s leader) and initiating and maintaining its implementation,
  • Directing the team’s activities,
  • Managing the resources and budgets and
  • Ensuring that targets are met, legal and financial obligations are complied with and the fundraising cycle runs smoothly for the prospects.

This role is complex and challenging, and it demands good leadership skills and an ability to maintain momentum and not to lose sight of the long-term goals. It is the central function of the development office.

In most offices, directors of development are also likely to be active fundraisers, managing their own portfolio of high-level prospects.

Broadly speaking, development work can be split into two types of functions: operational activities and external relations. Your office's structure should be flexible enough, however, so that it can easily change and adapt as activity develops.

Covering the Basics: Operational Activities

Prospect research and data management

Prospect research and data management are cornerstones of the office structure. You cannot fundraise without good data that is effectively managed and continually improved.

Equally important is comprehensive research to successfully prioritise prospects. In many start-up operations, these responsibilities fall to fundraising staff initially but are usually transferred to a more junior staff quite quickly.

Administration and finance

The development office’s administration and financial accounting activities need to be exemplary in order to ensure legal and financial obligations are met as well as to instil confidence with donors. Whilst this function may not require a dedicated post at the beginning (especially if the finance office has the capacity to take on the majority of financial accounting activities), assigning responsibility for this area should be a priority.

Doing the Business: External Relations


Fundraisers can only function at full efficiency if they have the backup of someone handling prospect research and data management as well as good administrative and finance systems. Only with these in place can they completely dedicate themselves to building up a sustainable income stream.

Alumni relations

Whether alumni relations is a part of the development office or a separate office within the institution, the development office will typically need a staff person focused on linking fundraising and alumni activities. Alumni are top donor prospects. Good data and prospect management, regular communications and activities and a clear fundraising strategy focused on this group are critical.

Project management

Whilst this is not common in the UK or United States, some development offices in developing countries are introducing project officers to monitor the implementation of philanthropically funded projects. Your institution’s reputation with donors will rely on its ability to do what it said it would, when it said it would. Therefore, you may want to consider having someone:

  • Work with the finance office to ensure funds are released in a timely manner,
  • Monitor the progress of project implementation against agreed timelines and milestones,
  • Act as an intermediary between different parts of the institution if there are hold-ups or delays,
  • Measure and document the impact of your work,
  • Provide project updates for donor reports and
  • Contribute to developing new proposals.
Room to Specialise

Once these basic functions are in position, the office structure can expand to embrace specialists in the different donor categories, which are outlined in section 7.

Making It Work

Whatever structure you choose, it will only work if each team member understands how his or her role interacts with other roles. Fundraisers need to be free to fundraise and respect the ability of other colleagues to take responsibility for tasks such as prospect research and gift processing. Operational staff members need to appreciate that updated data and smooth operations are essential to support the work of fundraisers and leadership.

If you have a limited staff budget, then concentrate on filling the key roles first before expanding the team. It is better to grow a team in incremental steps so that new staff can be properly managed and inducted into their new roles.

Smaller teams might also want to consider outsourcing some aspects of their activities, especially in the early years. This might mean engaging freelance proposal writers or prospect researchers, using agencies to support communications or outsourcing data management to a third party. However, be cautious when outsourcing fundraising activities: your donors should always have a direct relationship with staff at the institution. Make sure you have an exit strategy. And always try to leverage the capacity and skill of other departments/offices.

Action Items
  • Determine the fundraising strategy and priorities, as well as the roles and relationships with other departments, before you commit to an office staffing structure (and budget for this structure if possible).
  • Think about the short- and long-term when charting out your structure. How will you build upon your initial team? How will you incorporate activities that other departments and consultants may initially take care of as development endeavours expand?

You Might Also Want to Read:

The role and importance of alumni relations
Reporting lines and organizational structure
Key working relationships and links with other offices/departments
Using consultants
Reviewing the current situation
Donor cultivation
Recruiting the right people
Building a cadre of support


CASE provides sample organisational charts, as well as in-depth human resources information on areas such as recruitment and hiring, orientation, diversity, workplace culture, communication, meetings and sample job descriptions.

Rowley talks about the organizational structure of his department.
Gemma Peters, executive director of fundraising and supporter development at King's College London, talks about how changes in staff roles.
Doyle talks about staffing structure.
Dugga talks about what people should be on a new development team.
McWilliams talks about staffing and organizational structure.
Bill Abraham, director of development at the Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge, talks about organizational structure.
Abraham talks about staff members to add to the organizational structure.
McCallum describes key performance indicators that lead to giving, and how that informs his institution's cultivation model.
Leisl Elder talks about whether or not to have a finance person on your institution's development team, and how development departments can work with finance departments.
Lori Manders, director of development and alumni relations at University College London, talks about development operations.