Career Move: Should You Seek a Development or CEO Position?

Man with his hand on his chin thinking.A client asked about potential career moves. She was toying with pursuing a development position vs. an executive director role. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each? From my perspective, as an advisor and mentor to individuals in the philanthropic arena, here are the top benefits and drawbacks of each position.



CEO Position Advantages

  • You determine and follow your vision for the future
  • Varied activities, including executing the mission, managing people, organizing revenue
  • More interaction with mission activities than development work, generally
  • Greater power including access to board members and all staff
  • Demand to think strategically

Drawbacks of CEO Positions

  • Unless you’re the founder, you start with a board someone else developed
  • Multiple bosses
  • Need to keep executing the mission, managing people, and growing revenue on the front burners simultaneously
  • Typically, under-resourced
  • Require all corporate leadership skills plus how to motivate volunteers, and seek donations

Director of Development

Director of Development Position Advantages

  • You work with people who believe in giving
  • The longer you serve, the better your return
  • You have one boss
  • You seek a single overriding objective: to build a community of donors that grow the bottom line
  • You focus on nurturing others

Drawbacks of Director of Development Position

  • Few people “get” what you do
  • The timing of donations is capricious
  • Those in the position are often subject to unrealistic expectations which result in high, involuntary turnover
  • Success requires an exceptional relationship with the CEO, who may leave at any time
  • Lower control than the CEO, over the resources you need to create an effective program

Still Stuck?

Which nonprofit career should you pursue? A job in development or a CEO position? It depends on your answer to this question: Which do you enjoy most, helping individuals with means to make philanthropic gifts or, guiding a team of people to build an organization that improves lives? For more help as you explore your next career move, join my mentor program to move your career into the fast lane in the New Year.

For more answers, check out the  Nonprofit CEO Library.

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Karen Eber Davis

Before founding her firm, Karen Eber Davis developed the Sarasota County Community Development Block Grant Program. Under her leadership, this infant program received the National Association of Counties National Affordable Housing Award for the Down Payment Assistance Program. To date, the program helped over 1,800 families realize their dreams of homeownership. She also worked with the City of Ft. Lauderdale and the Florida Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, where she developed the division’s first audit program. In an earlier position at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Tampa, she organized senior, youth, and children groups plus family activities. Her youth staffing work with the Florida Synod of the Lutheran Church in America supported youth ministries in 120 congregations in Florida.