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John G. Shedd Aquarium

Chief Development Officer

John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago IL., has exclusively retained the services of DHR International and DHR Managing Partner and nonprofit specialist Mary Lee Montague to lead the initiative for their newly created position of Chief Development Officer. Below is a partial job specification.



Founded in 1924, Shedd Aquarium is the top-attended paid cultural institution in Chicago and one of the most-attended aquariums in the United States. As a non-profit organization dedicated to animal care and welfare, conservation research and public education, Shedd is known today as “The World’s Aquarium.”  A vital learning resource, scientific contributor and conservation champion, the Aquarium each year welcomes approximately 2 million guests including a quarter-million students from elementary and secondary schools.  

Shedd is part of Chicago’s 57-acre Museum Campus, which includes four other notable attractions: the Adler Planetarium, America's first planetarium; the Field Museum of Natural History; Soldier Field, home of the NFL Chicago Bears; and the Lakeside Center of McCormick Place. The Museum Campus sits along Chicago’s famed Lake Michigan shoreline, adjacent to Northerly Island and the water taxi link to Navy Pier.

Shedd Aquarium has a 55-member Board of Trustees, 294 full time and 142 part time staff, and 858 volunteers and is home to nearly 32,000 aquatic animals representing more than 1,500 species of fishes, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds and mammals from waters around the world.  The current membership stands at 16,500 households. In April 2016, Shedd hired Dr. Bridget Coughlin as President and CEO, only the fourth president since opening in 1930. Shedd’s new CDO will benefit from working with a committed Board; a forward-thinking President and CEO who sees "fundraising as an exciting and enjoyable part of the job;" a staff and volunteer group eager to grow and advance the mission, to develop a new Strategic Plan, and to seek the funding necessary to build the Shedd of tomorrow.

This is a time of dynamic growth at Shedd, which is incredibly well-financed and well-managed.  The success is complimented by a strong balance sheet, access to capital (cash reserves), and endowment.



Shedd Aquarium seeks an experienced executive to serve as its first Chief Development Officer (CDO).  This is an opportunity to create a truly comprehensive development program. This strategic position will help to fortify operations and a focus on data and metrics is key to success. 

Reporting directly to the President and CEO, the CDO will also work in close coordination with Senior Staff, Board Leadership, Development and Membership Staff, as well as with the SVP Board Liaison and Organizational Governance.  This individual will be responsible for directing and managing the Aquarium’s fundraising efforts including expanding and broadening the organization’s base of individual, foundation, corporate, and government philanthropic support as well as its general membership.

Additionally, the CDO will direct special giving initiatives and comprehensive capital campaigns, and will work with the President and CEO, Board Development Committee and the SVP Board Liaison and Organizational Governance to assist in relationship-building with the Board to initiate funding.

The successful candidate will be a skilled, decisive leader committed to the Shedd Aquarium mission.  She or he will be able to serve as a unifying force for the organization, will be comfortable working in a consensus-driven, collaborative environment, and will welcome and be skillful in building collaborative relationships with Board, staff, and communities through inspiration and values of respect and sensitivity.


The Chief Development Officer is a trusted source, collaborative member and strong strategic leader of the President and CEO’s senior leadership team. As such, the role requires comfort with the non-profit world.  The ideal candidate is motivated by the Aquarium’s mission and brand to help lead the organization to achieve its higher goals.  

  • Results-driven with experience cultivating multi-million dollar gifts, including supporting donor strategies, solicitation approaches and donor stewardship; demonstrated ability to close gifts; capital campaign experience is a must.
  • Demonstrated experience managing the President and CEO fundraising portfolio.
  • Curious, asks strategic questions, empowers others, able to be a strong strategic advisor and help build a new Strategic Plan and Fundraising Plan.
  • Highly communicative to President and CEO with well-timed information at the appropriate level.
  • Embraces work as a team sport while providing the correct amount of supervision and empowerment.
  • A range of experience including major gifts, corporate and foundation giving, planned giving, and membership programs, with a track record of results across all these areas.
  • Strong planning and analytical skills, proven experience in developing and effectively implementing an organization-wide Development Plan.
  • Understands data and how to articulate metrics in laymen’s terms; guides conversation using data.
  • Experience in the development and implementation of budgets, budget management and grant development.  
  • Track record of effectively partnering with finance to reach conscience on shared efforts.
  • Success working closely with—and building—executive team, board and staff relationships including examples of working across the aisles to break down silos with diverse groups.
  • Strong communication skills across a variety of constituencies.
  • Bachelor’s degree required; advanced degree or professional fundraising certification is ideal.
  • Minimum of 15 years of professional experience in development and fundraising for not-for-profit organizations.
  • Minimum 5 years of management experience. 

Other Personal Attributes Include:

  • Consistently looking forward, strong without being dramatic, ready to listen.
  • Make important and tough decisions with resilience and grace.
  • Communicate a strategy well, oversee execution, and celebrate results.
  • Ability to work most effectively in a collaborative work environment and prioritize appropriately. 
  • Highly organized self-starter maintaining high standards who can work effectively with the Aquarium’s diverse constituencies.
  • An awareness and interest in the conservation of aquatic environments and their inhabitants is important.
  • Innovative, creative thinker; not afraid to propose something new and inspire others to do the same.



The Shedd is offering the new CDO:  a strategic role; an enthusiastic President and CEO partner with a tremendous vision who embraces fundraising; an organization with a large endowment; participation in the formulation of the new Strategic Plan; talented and dedicated colleagues; an SVP partner to help guide the Board’s fundraising efforts in one of the nation’s leading cultural institutions. 

How to Apply

Please send resume to Kara Zavaleta at

John G. Shedd Aquarium
Chicago, IL

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