December 8, 2015 \ Rachel Jellinek
Can You Afford to Take a Job in Development?

apAllison Picott is the founder and principal of Advancement Advisers. We invited her to share a couple of the steps she took before switching her career from law into nonprofit development.


Let’s face it.  No one goes into development for the money.  That being said, it is important that anyone contemplating a job in development must first ask themselves, “Can I afford to take a job in development?”

This is a question I asked myself fourteen years ago when I considered leaving the practice of law after six years.  I was single at the time and earned a very good salary as a mid-level associate at a Boston law firm.  I also had a car loan, a mortgage, and law school loans.  I knew a move from the for-profit sector to the non-profit sector would mean a reduction in salary, but what I didn’t know was whether I could maintain my current lifestyle on a development salary.  The following is the process I went through to answer this question and is the advice I continue to give today to those seeking to make a similar career transition to development.

Research Potential Salaries

I began by researching the salaries of various development jobs.  Initially, I was interested in securing a job in alumni relations at an independent school.  However, I quickly realized the only job I could afford to consider (and would likely be qualified for) was a major gift officer.   I also learned that, unlike for-profit institutions, non-profit institutions do not typically pay year-end bonuses and, furthermore, only provide modest cost of living increases from one year to the next.

Understand Benefits Packages

Next, I tried to get a full understanding of the various benefits (e.g., health and dental insurance, retirement plans, paid holidays, vacation, and sick time, etc.) I could expect to receive working for a non-profit institution.  Throughout my development career, I’ve found the benefits package – the health and dental insurance and retirement plan, in particular – to be the most important factor when considering any job opportunity.  On one occasion, I found myself turning down a job offer for a slightly lower paying job because the retirement plan offered by my eventual employer was a slightly better one.

Seek Advice from a Financial Planner

Once I was able to get a general sense of the salary and benefits typically offered by a non-profit institution, I sought out the advice of a financial planner who was able to help me think through the various short- and long-term financial considerations and to make the necessary preparations to make the eventual career change.

Once I consciously made the decision to leave the practice of law, it took me approximately six months to secure a job as a major gift officer at my alma mater Phillips Academy Andover.  Having done my due diligence and planning in advance, I was able to make a happy and financially successful career transition.

Helpful Resources