Who are we, anyway?

Have you noticed how many different job titles fundraisers have?

We may be in Development or Advancement or External Relations, and we may be Directors of Institutional Advancement, Development, Engagement, Community Relations, Relationship Management, Philanthropy, or Major Donors. And the list goes on.

The Collins English Dictionary defines a job title with stunning simplicity: “a name that describes a person’s job in an organization.”

If you are the Chief Financial Officer of an organization, your role is concise and clear with a straightforward job description. Much the same applies to the Chief Executive Officer or Head of Human Resources. Not so with fundraising.

I often feel that our roles as fundraisers are viewed as a recipient for all the jobs or tasks that don’t fit into anyone else’s job description, which probably explains why our job descriptions are often several pages long and encompass overwhelming numbers of skill sets. Our jobs are complex and varied, and that may also explain why there are so many variations in our titles.

I worked with a client whose given title was Director of Community and External Relations. She had a team of four people in her office, and only one of them had any experience as a fundraiser. An external event caused them to receive multiple unsolicited gifts, and they had no idea how to handle this. The donors were never thanked or stewarded. Not surprisingly, the gifts were not renewed.

They turned to Graham-Pelton to help them understand how to move forward. We conducted our Quotients service with them to identify their skill sets and realign the staff in the office accordingly. These were smart people. Placed in the right positions and given the right titles, they could leverage their talents to really shine.

In Silicon Valley, job titles are becoming wackier by the day! Titles such as Happiness Director, Chief Heart Officer, Dream Alchemist, or Chief Instigator (real titles, by the way) may put a smile on your face but do not really identify what these people do.

Reflecting reality matters. Job titles matter.

Being able to acknowledge a person’s talents enhances their confidence and ultimately ensures that they perform to the best of their ability. Job titles have an emotional and psychological impact on an individual’s identity. When we feel that our skills are recognized and appreciated, we do our best. Our career paths are stronger and the institution benefits.

In our roles as fundraisers, we are often the initial face and voice of our organizations, and the titles we hold open doors that might otherwise remain closed.

To start, why don’t you ask why your title is what it is? Receiving feedback on why your institution chooses one title over another is an immediately helpful insight into the goals and vision for your role. It will help you (and your leaders!) explore if and how that title actually reflects who you are and what you do, supports those outcomes expected by your leaders, and attracts (or detracts) your constituents.

A title means so much more than what to include on your business card. We want our institutions to show that they sincerely value our roles and celebrate them through our job titles. But we also want donors to understand: to know who we are and what we do.

As you begin planning for a major fundraising effort, it behooves you to review your job titles and what they say about your roles and institutional goals. If they are confusing or off-putting, simplification and realignment will highlight each team members’ strengths and inspire confidence – in both themselves and their prospects – enhancing the chances of success.

Let us ensure our titles are relevant and reflective: relevant to our skills and goals, and reflective of our community and mission. Investing in this clarity is transformative.

Jane Narich is a Senior Vice President with Graham-Pelton. Contact her directly via e-mail or by calling 800-608-7955.

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