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How Do I Become a Community Development Director?

By Terry Masters
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are two general paths that can enable those interested to become a community development director. The first path is more formal and typically results in a community development job with a government agency or international nonprofit. It requires a bachelor's degree in community development, urban planning, economics or a similar discipline that emphasizes theories of community change. The second path is more informal and typically results in a job with a community-based nonprofit or a national nonprofit with community-level programs. You can qualify for this type of position with a bachelor's degree in any discipline and some relevant experience.

Community development can encompass a wide range of activities. It is only in the 21st century that the program activities involved in community development have been standardized in a way that allowed colleges and universities to develop degree programs to cover this specific type of job. Traditionally, students who wanted to work on local community development issues majored in urban planning or public policy. If a person planned to work in international community development, he majored in international relations or economics. For many scenarios, the position did not require a specific degree, but rather used people who had specific experience in the type of community development projects that were planned.

As community development gained popularity as an integrated approach to social change and as it was merged with concepts that allowed progress to be tied to economic indicators that could be tracked with specificity, the job of community development director became a specific career path. The most structured iteration of the position is in the context of government programs and international economic development work by nonprofits. In these instances, to become a community development director, you typically need a bachelor's degree in a community development major. You may also need a master's degree in a focus area, which can include economics, sociology, or program design and management.

Smaller nonprofits that work on a local level still hire community development directors that often come up through the program officer ranks. These community-based programs typically require basic program credentials, such as a bachelor's degree and experience working with people, and some experience in a community development program area. This experience can be in areas such as workforce development, housing development and community leadership and advocacy.

Whether you pursue a formal or informal path to become a community development director, you will need certain secondary skills to round out your candidacy. Employers hiring this type of director will expect the candidate to have demonstrated interest in and familiarity with the target community. Often, the position will require foreign language skills, especially if the work is international. Most importantly, to become a community development director, you should expect to work closely with people at the local level, so your background should demonstrate the type of communication skills that will enable you to fit in as a vested party, rather than an interloper.

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