March 22, 2018

Development Dilemma: Changing Career Paths

In our weekly column, consultants with decades of nonprofit experience answer your questions about fundraising, boards, strategy and more. To ask a question and be featured (anonymously!) in the column, email your questions to

This week’s question will be answered by Clyde Watkins.

The Dilemma

I really like what I am doing now, but I have begun to worry that maybe being a development officer won’t provide the satisfaction I am looking for in my career. Will I ever be able to get another kind of job if I decide to leave fundraising someday?

Clyde’s Response

There are various ways you can address the issue of career dissatisfaction. One is to take a hard look at what’s going wrong for you: Is it that you’re bored, feel incompetent, or don’t like your colleagues, especially perhaps your supervisor? In this case, maybe it’s time to look for a different job, most likely at a different institution. But if you are beginning to feel like this is simply the wrong field for you, then the sooner you determine that the better, as switching to a new career is certainly going to be easier to adapt to before you are further along in the one you have been pursuing. There will be less risk, and probably less sacrifice, involved in making the change.

If you’re having a hard time getting a solid perspective on the issue, I would suggest that you identify a trustworthy friend you can talk to – probably someone with some perspective unavailable to you now, like someone slightly older, and working elsewhere, maybe even in a different industry.

If you are especially fortunate (I might say prescient), you will have one or more mentors with whom you have an established relationship already, people who know you and understand what it is you do. They will have been watching your career as it has developed, and may even have seen this moment coming for a while. Regardless, you need someone who will ask you the hard questions, and who will demand that you answer them in a straightforward and non-defensive manner.

If you believe you can solve your problems by just changing jobs, then sit down and make a careful list of the pros and cons of your current role and circumstances. If you are going to look for a new job, make sure you know what you are looking for, not just what you want to get away from. In my experience, it is who you are working for, and with, that is ultimately the most important issue relating to job satisfaction. You want to be with people who support you and want to see you succeed. You want a boss who will help you grow and who will respect you as an individual.

If you are thinking of changing into an entirely different line of work, it may be worth your while to get some professional advice, even to take some tests to help determine your greatest talents and skills. This can be time and money well spent.

As you are considering your alternatives, the following list may help you identify some possible choices to make.

Written by

Clyde Watkins

Clyde P. Watkins is Of Counsel at TWB Fundraising.


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