Why do Nonprofits Give Their Staff Such Terrible Titles?

fundraiserI have always felt that the word “fundraiser” stinks!

As a donor, I feel like “fundraiser” screams “salesperson”. When a fundraiser calls me, I know I better hold on to my wallet and my checkbook.

The staff titles nonprofits use are pretty stinky too. 

Do you really think the average person feels comfortable when they read these titles below?

  • Gift Officer (will I get arrested if I don’t give?)
  • Director or Vice President of:
  • Institutional Advancement (surely the worst of the bunch)
  • Charitable Estate Planning
  • Real Estate Gifting
  • Gift Planning
  • Estate & Gift Planning
  • Planned Giving & Estate Administration
  • Trusts, Estates & Gift Planning
  • Charitable Estate Planning
  • Trusts & Estates
  • Donor Relations
  • Advancement
  • Development & Marketing
  • Institutional Advancement (surely the worst of the bunch)
  • Development
  • Advancement Development
  • Business Development
  • Executive
  • External Relations
  • Donor Ombudsman

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Rather, I prefer (although I’ve never seen anyone use these) “Donor Engagement Facilitator”, “Mission Engagement Facilitator”, or simply “Engagement Facilitator”.  Those titles sound more inviting to me. In fact, I actually came up with these titles when I handed a fundraiser a check for $1,000 last year.

My titles above makes me feel like I can easily get engaged with the nonprofit’s mission if I call that person… instead of being asked for money from a fundraiser or Director of Advancement.

Who says that you have to continue using those same old stodgy, confusing, and often meaningless titles anyway? I think they make donors feel uncomfortable.  Donating to charity is a “familial” act (of, relating to, or occurring in a family or its members). It’s a social act. The nonprofit titles above don’t have an ounce of emotion. Yuck!

People want to engage first, then they’ll give. Change your titles and I bet you’ll raise more money.

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49 responses to “Why do Nonprofits Give Their Staff Such Terrible Titles?”

  1. Lisa Chmiola says:

    Interesting…Dr. Russell James includes this line of thinking in his latest research presentation too! My vote is we should be Philanthropy Officers 🙂

    • engagementfundraising says:

      Hi Lisa-
      Funny you should mention that. He and I speak regularly. He’s testing some of my suggestions for new, innovative titles. Stay tuned…

  2. When I was an “Asst.Vice President for University Advancement” at Calif. State Univ, Sacramento….the daily newspaper picked up my husband’s shorter title for me… “Dean for the Green” 🙂
    Last week the Monterey Elks Lodge asked me if I would serve as their Public Affairs chair for this coming year and I sure… “now all the Elks Affairs can be Public”… they didn’t get it 🙂 I’m using the title Public Relations… that may be a LITTLE better…you know..cousins, aunts etc.
    Really glad you’re discussing this,Greg…would love a non-threatening, universal title but doubt we’ll ever agree on it… but titles like “Advancement Officer” doesn’t sound quite as pushy, to me… and Engagement sounds like a wedding date needs to be set… tough choices!

  3. engagementfundraising says:

    Maybe we should ask the supporters what they think.

  4. Kelley R.J. Tetzlaff says:

    It is excellent that you bring this topic to the forefront. I agree the whole discussion of titles is blown way out of proportion and gets blown completely out of bounds.
    Personally, I am fine with the term fundraising and fundraiser. I am of the opinion that is what we do, it clearly explains to the donor what our focus is and I am all about simplicity. Then again, I also believe that being a fundraiser or- a salesperson for that matter- are honorable professions! I know not every one agrees however!
    At any rate, I clearly agree that many of the manipulations of titles that have been put into use are not necessary and maybe. . . dare I say, attempts to cover up what we really do as “fundraisers”? Which is of course, to find people who care about the mission of our organization, build connections and relationships and facilitate their supporting our organization’s in various ways- which include funding?
    Just my humble opinion. Certainly a topic of passionate and varied thoughts and opinions!

    • engagementfundraising says:

      Thanks Kelley. I agree. No reason to hide the fact that you are a fundraiser. Supporters will surely appreciate the honesty and transparency.

  5. Susan Blackman says:

    Great evaluation. I think you’re spot on. Thanks.

  6. Ely Santoni says:

    I need help in coming up with a strategy for planned giving donors that live in Florida. Some of them are snowbirds and spend time in NJ where I work. Many of my Florida prospects refuse to give me meetings. We have about 3000 prospects/donors alumni in Florida. Do you have any good suggestions!

  7. Eugene Fram says:

    Great post. Please add Executive Director to the list. Should be President/CEO!! See link:
    https://non-profit-management-dr-fram.com/2014/03/30/whats-in-a-name-benefits-of-the-presidentceo-title-revised-updated/ Board External.

  8. I work for a hospice nonprofit, our Donor Relations Manager often got calls about organ donations…

  9. Roger Ellison says:

    Greg, at your suggestion I looked into the titles you created/liked. I am sorry, but I think they are absolutely horrible. I would hate to go to the home of an older friend of the organization I represent and tell them I am the Donor Engagement Facilitator. “You are WHAT?” “Who in the world came up with than name?” “Tell me what in the world/hell that is supposed to mean.”

    • engagementfundraising says:

      Wow Roger, you almost sound angry about it. Harsh words. “Absolutely horrible.”
      Well, I’d just like to respectfully remind you that a fundraiser’s donor-facing title should be developed for the donor, not the fundraiser. In other words, although you clearly have an opinion on the matter, what you think shouldn’t really matter.
      I hope you’ll at least ask your donors what they think about them before completely overruling the ideas. If you won’t do that, you’ll never really know whether the title is horrible or not. Again, your opinion shouldn’t really matter.
      Thanks for your contribution to the discussion though.

  10. engagementfundraising says:

    Oh, one other thing… let’s not forget that a fundraiser’s role is to help donors get engaged and to facilitate their giving. I cannot imagine a donor preferring something like “Director of Institutional Advancement” over “Donor Engagement Facilitator.” The former is all about the employee and the organization. The later is all about the donor. Donor-centricity is the key here.
    Thanks again for your contribution though. It’s great to hear a variety of opinions.

  11. Lisa Aubin says:

    I would love to know if anyone has changed their title to one of these and what the results have been. I think development means nothing to our donors and is confusing – I’ve had friends who thought it meant the same as a developer of land/buildings, etc.

  12. Matt Bregman says:

    After reading the first part of this (via LinkedIn), the title that came to my mind was “Vice President for Supporter Engagement.” So I was tickled to see that that closely aligned with the suggestions here.
    I agree that we should consider overhauling these titles. “Development” is a euphemism and creates a sense of dreary confusion. We fundraisers are most successful when we engage our supporters with creativity, consistency and sincerity, so perhaps the new title would help us focus more energy on that element of what we do. And it just might make people less reluctant to sit next to us at dinners!

  13. Jake says:

    Interesting thoughts here on titles. I agree that some titles can be a bit crass. I spent some time in sales years ago doing B2B web hosting and bandwidth for Qwest before they merged with US West and I used to call and say “Hi, I’m Jake and I’m a salesman with Qwest just peddling some bandwidth. Are you in the market for bandwidth? If not, can I send you an email and when you are looking in the future, would you give me a chance to win your business?” People loved that I was very forward about being a salesperson. They would tell me about how people would try to be sneaky about what their real purpose was, etc. I got a lot of calls back in future months because they knew that I was going to be straight forward.
    Just another perspective to consider. A straight forward approach might be good. (obviously though not suggesting a title like “Jake, Getting your kids inheritance for a great cause.”) 🙂

  14. Virginia says:

    Maybe the disagreements here reflect, in part, the differences in the way we see our profession. Are we strengthening individuals’ relationships with the organization, developing the organizational capacity, or getting money in the door? I say all three, but just focusing on the money doesn’t work for me. So I would say the word development works for me – development of relationships, development of systems, development of ability to advance the mission.

  15. Agree that “development” is meaningless to many. What are you “developing?” I’d say donor relationships. And philanthropic support. So perhaps using those words might be more to the point?
    My boss often referred to me euphemistically as the “director of donor experiences.” Because, as I’m wont to say, “if you want gifts, you must give them.” Really, we’re all philanthropy facilitators. I’m fond of using the word philanthropy in titles, since it literally translates to “love of humankind.” And that’s what giving is all about, n’est-ce pas? When I supervised major gifts officers, I renamed them “directors of philanthropic gifts.” I also like CPO — Chief Philanthropy Officer — for organizations that have a CEO, COO, CFO structure.
    When people ask me what I do for a living, I say I’m a “fundraiser.” I’m proud of the title, and it’s absolutely the point of the endeavor. However, it’s a word that makes people uncomfortable. Because they connote it with money — still a huge taboo in our society. So… why not take the titles away from the perception of “filthy lucre” and move towards the warmer, fuzzier perception associated with “love?”

    • engagementfundraising says:

      Thanks Claire. Yes, “if you want gifts, you must give them.” …the law of reciprocity is powerful.

  16. Charles O'Neil says:

    At the QEII Health Sciences Centre Foundation business cards for all our gift planning and major gifts people use “Charitable Giving Advisor”. Three words most folks will understand. Not sure about “Mission Engagement Facilitator”, but we’ll have to wait for Dr. James’ research.

    • engagementfundraising says:

      Charles, ‘Charitable Giving Advisor’sounds like the BEST title I have ever heard for that role. Good for you!

  17. Dawn Veillette Diana says:

    I have no problem with Donor Relations; I certainly prefer that over my current title of Director of Resource Development – ugh! My title is passed down from our national organization’s structure. It’s so internal; I hate it. I would prefer Director of Donor Relations. In terms of an overall department, I have no problem with Development, though I understand it can be confusing for donors and prospects to know what this is (I explain that we develop relationships between the community and the organization), and I also like Philanthropy. And I certainly prefer Development or Philanthropy over Fundraising. To me, Fundraising is a part of what do in Development/Philanthropy.

  18. Mark says:

    What about something along these lines?

    Philanthropic Relationship Liaison

    Philanthropy Liaison


    Philanthropic Experience Liaison

    Does Liaison hold a positive or negative connotation in most people’s (donors’/prospects’) minds?

  19. Mark says:

    That title assumes everyone you can touch will become a donor (that would be ideal), or that everyone is already a donor (vs a mixed portfolio of existing donors and potential new donors).

    What about Philanthropic Relationship Specialist as an option to consider?


    Philanthropy Specialist?

  20. Kathleen Morgen says:

    Thanks for this conversation. I have a client that needs a VP title. What are your thoughts on “Vice President, Philanthropic Impact” or “Vice President, Philanthropic Strategies?”

    • Greg Warner says:

      I like both.

      How about having her ask her DONORS what they think of the title? That would be a great way to engage them. Ask them what they think her title should be. How do THEY see her and view what she does FOR THEM.

  21. Valerie. Buickerood says:

    We changed my title to Director of Engagement and Communications (I manage development and communications) in 2016. Seems to work well enough. Have been considering another change to philanthropy in place of engagement. Curious if it makes a difference.

  22. Mary Holmes says:

    We use “Donor Services Manager” … what can we do for a donor…
    I like it.
    Director of Institutional Advancement… get over yourself…

  23. Priya says:

    How about CRO…Chief Relationship Officer?

  24. What about borrowing from the fir profit world… “chief growth officer”?

  25. Stanton says:

    I believe the term fundraiser is demeaning to our profession. You hear People always say, I’m going to a “fundraiser.” A car wash, bake sale, gala, etc. is what they imagine. And that’s what they think you do, special events 24-7. I am a development officer who does many, many things, of which making asks for meaningful gifts is one responsibility.

  26. Michelle Brown says:

    Would love an update to this original post as I have seen orgs that have moved toward using Philanthropy or Engagement since this was written. I’m creating a new team and wondering what current data on this research is showing. Have these title moves made a difference for donors over the last years? I’m in education and Advancement is still common (always hated that one) as is Development (also dislike) which gets confusing because many think of curriculum or teacher development as opposed to fundraising and relationship building.

    • Greg Warner says:

      Thanks for your comments here Michelle. Unfortunately, Dr. James has not updated his research on this subject and I don’t believe he has plans to do so. Sorry.

  27. Barry Sink says:

    I work for a not-for-profit. We have been down the road with titles. To borrow a colleagues distinction- one is internal (Major Gifts/Officer. The other external. We landed on Regional Director for Mission Advancement. We are assigned by region throughout the country. Feedback? Thoughts?

    • Greg Warner says:

      Thanks for posting Barry.

      Since you asked… here are my thoughts and feedback:

      1. I wonder if you threw that title past any major donors?

      2. If so, what did they think about it. After all, they are your target audience.

      3. Lastly, I have to be honest in telling you that I believe most donors won’t really immediately understand what ‘mission advancement’ means AND how it can help THEM to talk to someone with that title. It sounds wonky to me (of course I could be wrong). Plus, I believe it’s the donors that advance the mission, not the fundraisers. I know that fundraisers are amazing. But they simply act as the conduits and facilitators between the donors and the great things that can happen thanks to their financial support.

      I hope all that is well received.

  28. Taweni says:

    Very helpful thread. Thank you very much.

  29. Olav Athayde says:

    IMHO, many of these titles are “bestowed” in lieu of compensation. Keep the individual happy with a fancy title is the name of the game.

  30. Safa J says:

    This has been a very helpful thread. We are creating a post for someone who will do communications and fundraising (also communications FOR fundraising). What’s the latest on a title that makes it clear to internal constituents needing communication services as well as donors that this is the person to reach out to. This person is also keen on having keywords that are attractive in common future employer searches! Thank you.

  31. George N. Patides says:

    What a great article and a super thread! I echo what some have already said about current status of what titles are getting the best traction?

    In our education npo realm, any feedback for “Dir. of Philanthropy & Appreciation” (moi), or the two mentioned by Claire Axelrad earlier “Director of Philanthropic Gifts” or “Chief Philanthropy Officer”.

    Thank you all and I look forward to reading more on this here!

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