Reconsidering the Titles We Give Professional Fundraisers

Posted Jul 06, 2011 by Ben Mohler

The titles we give fundraising professionals should bring connotations of trust, confidentiality, expertise, and ethics. What is your title?

Yet another member of the front-line fundraising team at my organization is departing for a position at another institution. So, as we’ve done in the past, the team gathered last night to bid farewell to Sharon — a valued colleague, trusted confidant, loyal friend, and in my case… my fundraiser?

About two years ago I decided that if I was going to be supporting my institution with philanthropic support, I should have a contact that could help set up my gift and would steward my support. Even though the research I wanted to support was literally thirty feet from my office door, I felt I should still have a chance to have a full donor experience and get to work with a fundraiser in that journey. I asked Sharon if she would be that person.

In Sharon’s departure I’ve had to consider who I’d want to represent my philanthropic interests with the organization. I believe I know who I’ll ask, but the hard part is figuring out the right way to pose the question.

Within the profession we use awkward terminology to refer to the relationship donors share with the person that represents their connection with the organization (e.g. development director and major gifts officer). Neither of these titles reflect the balance that professional fundraisers negotiate between donor intent and organizational need… a highly difficult task in light of donor advised funds, restricted gifts, and performance-driven grant making. These titles also fail to address the other aspects of the fundraising profession, the trust relationship.

Look at any other professional field. Let’s say you were talking with a close friend and wanted to make reference to your doctor or accountant. You would be inclined to use a possessive pronoun. “I have to schedule an appointment to see MY doctor.”

Professional titles (doctor, accountant, lawyer) brings with it connotations of trust, confidentiality, expertise, and ethics. I proudly wear the banner of “fundraiser,” but know that this title is not fully descriptive of my profession and of my responsibilities. This became clearer last night as I considered who among my colleagues I would want to represent my interests as I continue giving to my institution. This prompted me to reconsider the titles we give professional fundraisers.

Those that know me also know how I’ve described my job when asked by those that don’t understand the concept of a major gift officer (no, I don’t have a badge to prove it). I have settled on using the term “philanthropic adviser.” This is in large part why my current working title is now “director of philanthropy and development” not just “director of development.” I’m quite pleased with the prospect of referring to Sharon in the past tense as my philanthropic adviser. I am also confident that when I ask one of my colleagues to represent my support to the institution as my philanthropic adviser, they will be quite clear with what I am asking of them. However, I still wonder if a better term exists for professional fundraisers.