Job titles through a different lens

January 14, 2016

There are so many interesting job titles on LinkedIn. Reading through them as a fundraiser shows me that we still struggle to describe what we do and perhaps how we structure it effectively. When I see a long job title with further descriptors in brackets – ‘Assistant Head of Development (Individuals and Groups)’ – I wonder how big and complex the team structure is, and sense that perhaps the team has changed structure organically over time and become too complex.

Reading through these titles as a donor makes me feel rather uncomfortable and concerned. Do I really want to talk to the ‘Head of Engagement and Major Giving’, when I am as yet unsure whether I wish to ‘engage’ and have no desire to make a ‘major gift’? ‘Engagement’ is one I particularly dislike – none of us would ever use that term in our normal daily lives. We would never think, ‘Oh, I am inspired to engage with that organisation’. By using that term, we reveal our inner workings as an organisation, and perhaps even our lack of confidence in our ability to ‘engage’.

‘We need to improve our engagement with alumni, corporates, and the community. We need someone to lead this and create a strategy.’

That might be true, but do we really need to label the leader tasked with creating the strategy as ‘Director of Engagement’? Surely, we should have titles that our targeted audiences understand and relate to. If we want to reach corporates, we should consider what they would label such a role, so that we can seek to meet our counterparts in that sector. If we want to reach out to wealthy philanthropists, then use ‘Director of Philanthropy’, so once again the job title supports and confirms the relationship – and doesn’t just create an obstacle.

‘Does it really matter’, you might be asking? Yes, I think it does. I think how we design, structure, and label our roles tells people a lot about how we work as an institution. I think it sends messages to those we meet. Our title should inform them quite clearly who we are and what we are responsible for, and, at a deeper level, it should send a message about our values. For example, as a donor, I would love to meet someone called ‘Head of Donor Care’. That tells me instantly that the organisation values me. ‘Head of Stewardship’ ought to do the same thing, but instantly feels less warm and more corporate. ‘Head of Major Giving’ seems to expose the fundraising team structure and makes me feel that there isn’t interest in my gift unless it is ‘major’, whereas “Head of Philanthropy’ makes me feel that philanthropy matters.

As a team member, your job title matters – for your CV and for your confidence. It states what you do and what you are responsible for. I suggest we all step back and look at our job titles with the eyes of our donors, supporters, partners, and the wider public. Would they understand what I do from my job title? Does it express our company values? Is it simple and positive? This is what matters – not whether my job title covers all that I do and demonstrates my recent promotion.

As someone who once had ‘Acting Director of Development’ on a business card, I fondly remember meeting a donor who said, ‘So, when you have stopped acting and started being the director, maybe we can really get down to business.’ He said this with a smile, but his message was important. Did the organisation really have to expose our inner workings by insisting I used the label ‘Acting’ in such a public way?

-Susie Hills, Managing Director

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