Why fundraiser job titles suck and cost you a lot of money!

Why fundraiser job titles suck and cost you a lot of money!My pal Dr. Russell James is at it again.
This time, he researched what fundraiser job titles inspire more engagement, connectivity, and giving. According to James, “This study tests the impact of various fundraiser job titles on others’ willingness to contact the fundraiser to engage in giving-related discussions.”

What did he find?
Well, although it’s safe to say that many of us love our job titles, Dr. James uncovered some reasons to believe that, perhaps, we shouldn’t love them so much.
After presenting these fundraiser job titles to people, he asked them, “Who at the charity are you more likely to contact?” The title that performed worst out of 63 tested was Director of Advancement! Tweet this! Also among the bottom 10 worst performers included:

  • Chief Advancement Officer
  • Director of Institutional Advancement
  • Chief Institutional Advancement Officer

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Swapping out the word advancement for development did little to improve the results. In fact, adding the words advancement or development to any title resulted in low-performance results.
The problem is that most fundraiser job titles tend to fall into one of three categories: institution focused, gift focused, or donor focused. But they rarely describe what benefits the donors will receive. For more on this, you might want to check out my post about stinky fundraiser titles and my suggested improved titles (focused on donor benefits).
Anyway, Dr. James did find that some narrow, gift-focused titles performed a little better. But overall the best performing titles were donor-centered focusing on the advisory role the fundraiser plays while making sure the title doesn’t go too far in suggesting that the fundraiser is neutral. After all, the fundraiser does work for the institution.
For instance, the following gift/advisor-oriented titles performed better than the traditional institution-centered ones:

  • Chief Individual Giving Officer
  • Chief Special Gifts Officer
  • Director of Major Gifts

You can get the entire abstract here on Wiley’s website for a small fee.

What’s MarketSmart’s take on all this?: I don’t like these titles and I think they cost nonprofits money! I think more titles need to be tested. And, of course, I like the new, innovative titles I created! Check ’em out here.

What do you think?

Leave your comments below or share this blog post with your peers!

28 responses to “Why fundraiser job titles suck and cost you a lot of money!”

  1. Jeff Swan says:

    I agree that our fundraising job titles usually suck. Mine was “Director of Advancement”, and now it’s “Regional Director of Development”. It’s a good observation to see those titles are focused on the nonprofit organization’s objectives, and not on the donor’s needs and wants. Usually, donors don’t mind speaking with the field staff person who is actually delivering the services to the clients the nonprofit organization serves. Donors are also happy to speak with the President or Executive Director, because they think they might actually learn something interesting about life in general, as opposed to receiving just a bare minimum sales pitch for the organization, followed by a request for a gift.
    However, I find it interesting that sales-oriented titles don’t hurt in most for-profit businesses. Why is that? I think it’s because customers *want* a product or service, and they *need* a good salesperson to get the right product at the right price. Customers don’t want to be pressured, but they also get frustrated and angry when they want to buy something, and they can’t find a salesperson to take their order or explain the features and benefits, and offer comparisons and some product knowledge. If this is true, how can we make “fundraising” roles more like “sales manager” or “account director” roles and job descriptions?

  2. We changed our office name from Planned Giving to Legacy Planning for the very same reason. I’m now Assistant Vice President, Legacy Planning. Almost no one outside the field knows what Planned Giving is. Since I have to explain it anyway, I’d much rather be able to focus the narrative on the objective of the donor: planning a meaningful legacy.

    • Deb Allen says:

      I like that! (I always thought “Planned Giving” sounded a bit odd–as opposed to, what–unplanned giving????

  3. Deb Allen says:

    “Donor Engagement Facilitator” seems like excessive verbiage, and very confusing. (I can see a donor reading the word “engagement” and wondering if we’re getting in to wedding planning as a side business?!?!) As a fussy English major, I’m all for brevity and clarity, and a title like this seems just the opposite. That said, “Director of Development” can still be confusing to some donors, too. (for years, I dutifully filled in the “career mentor” form for my undergraduate alma mater, and never got a single request for information–I often wondered if the reason was that my job title was confusing, and students thought I was in real estate development, as in, building strip malls and fast food joints! hmmm…)

    • Marc Littlecott says:

      I agree, Deb. Your comment reminds me of the late-George Carlin’s bit about the evolution of the term “Shell Shock”. He hilariously described how well-meaning people took a simple, definitive term (there’s total agreement on what it is and what causes it) and evolved it over the course of several wars into something called PTSD, which now has all kinds of different interpretations and rampant misapplications. Watch it on YouTube sometime for a good laugh.

  4. Dear Greg,
    Thanks so much for addressing this! I never thought about this idea before-that our titles might be confusing! But they are. Development can be used for software, and as Deb said, it can be used for construction too. Development really doesn’t cover it. Neither does fundraiser, because we build relationships, it’s not JUST about the money!
    In my Fundraising Career Conference in 2015 and 2016, we never even thought of addressing the fundraising titles. It’s something I will consider for the coming year- how to change our titles to be more donor friendly- instead of development associate, why not, “Donor Advocate?” That might give donors a better idea of who’s on their side in the nonprofit, who is rooting for them to help change the world.
    OK New title ideas:
    Donor Advocate
    Donor Service Manager
    Chief Donor Love Officer
    Donor Engagement Director
    What do you think?
    Author “Get the Job! Your Fundraising Career Empowerment Guide”

  5. Tara says:

    I’m technically the Development Director for my company, but on my signature with donors I put Donor Relationship Director or Donor Relationship Manager. It makes it clear that I’m there for the donors and for a relationship with them.

  6. […] Dr. Russell James is at it again. He recently researched what fundraiser job titles inspire more engagement & giving.The title that performed the worst wa..  […]

  7. Joel says:

    Thanks Tara. My title is Development Officer but my emphasis is relationship building, therefore I would like to borrow Donor Relationship Manager.

  8. […] Good stuff from Greg Warner over at Market Smart. Why Fundraiser Job Titles Suck and Cost You a Lot of Money. […]

  9. Julie Carter says:

    Hey Greg, great comments!
    Quick story: When I was preparing for my first campaign, way before Dr. James began his research, I hired a fabulous Director of Major Gifts, and we included the title on the name tag development and events staff wore at our many activities.
    One of our loyal major gift donors noticed it immediately. He did not react positively.
    Clearly, “protect the wallet” was his gut reaction.
    Fortunately, we were able to diminish his fears, and all was made well. He continued his support on many levels for years to come.
    However, this experience caused a rethinking of that position title, followed by many others. Today, my beloved “alma mater” is building each year on the foundation of listening and adapting that we worked to put into place.
    A key learning from our experience is:
    Pay close attention to how supporters view their contributions in the context of a family. Especially a family that has expanded greatly from the one they originally signed up for!
    Applause to you, Greg–for bringing up this point to your ever-expanding audience!
    PS– Love the “Chief Donor Love Officer” comment above from Mazarine! Go for it!

  10. In a scan of the previous comments, I did not see the title that I have found more practical than anything with “Advancement,” “Development” or variations thereof. I have shifted to the use of the word donors seem to understand and appreciate: “Philanthropy.” It really says what it is all about. Over a 45-year career in fundraising, I have held most of the various titles, but found “Vice President for Philanthropy,” Vice President of Philanthropy” or “”Director of Philanthropy” more practical.

  11. Greg, the job title that has proven to get the best results is “Board Member.”

  12. I’m remembering years ago at a conference a fundraiser who’s title was Chief Dream-maker.

  13. Karin Freihammer says:

    How about Director of Donor Impact?

  14. […] worst nonprofit job titles involved positions like Chief Advancement Officer, Director of Institutional Advancement, and Chief […]

  15. Director of Donor Impact gets my vote. Love it Karin!

  16. […] worst nonprofit job titles involved positions like Chief Advancement Officer, Director of Institutional Advancement, and Chief […]

  17. I?m amazed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog that?s equally educative and entertaining, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head.
    The problem is something too few folks are speaking intelligently about.

    I am very happy that I stumbled across this during my search for something regarding this.

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