A super star!
Seriously, that’s what you are. But you may be wondering why I ask.
What’s in a name?
Recently, veteran fundraiser Jerrold Panas weighed in on the subject of development titles. He noted he prefers “Charitable Gift Planner,” “Chariable Gift Counselor,” and “Director of Donor Services” to the most often used “Director of Planned Gifts.” He also champions “Vice President for Philanthropy” over “Vice President for Development (or Advancement).”
This reminded me of a time when my boss and I went round and round on this subject. It was a good 15 years or so ago. We knew “director of development” was not exactly a transparent title [try looking up the definition of “development” and you’ll see what I mean].
“Development,” by itself, has little to do with philanthropy. It simply means evolution, expansion, growth and progress. All positive terms in the context of a nonprofit mission, no doubt. But isn’t that what the CEO is in charge of too? And the program directors? And the board?
My boss and I wrestled with whether to go the “V.P. of Advancement” route, thinking the job was about “advancing the organization’s mission”. But, really, that’s the same problem. And, at the time, my boss was an “E.D.” and didn’t much cotton to the idea of calling herself “President.” So how could we have vice-presidents? [I offered to simply be the “director of vice,” but that didn’t go anywhere].
We considered “Director of Advancement” and “Director of External Relations,” but ultimately realized those titles didn’t mean much more to most folks than did “Director of Development.” After going round and round on this (I researched all the titles I could find and shared them with her), I got a bit punchy and suggested “Diva of Dollars” or “Maven of Money.” We laughed. Nothing changed.
And, thank goodness. Because I’ve since realized our jobs are not about money. They’re about impact — that which the donor can facilitate through their philanthropy. And they’re about the gratitude we feel because of the outcomes donors enable.
Money is merely a symbol, representing what can be accomplished through giving.
Thus, our job titles should really be about us helping them rather than them helping us.
Some years later I changed the titles of all my major gift officers to “Directors of Philanthropic Gifts” and my planned giving officer to “Director of Legacy Gifts.” Perhaps still a bit murky to many, but at least more donors understood a bit better.
The best title I ever got was when my boss began, in public, to call me the “Director of Donor Experiences.” I love that, because it’s what we really do if we’re thinking about how best to take care of our donors and give them the meaning they seek through their philanthropy.
The best guides check their ego at the door. You’re not a diva or a maven. You’re part of the party, not the life of it. It should be all about the donor experience, not about you. The most important traits for an Engagement Journey Guide are good will, integrity, empathy, an ability to connect and passion. You’ve got to love what you’re doing. Why?
You aren’t just any guide. You’re engaging folks in a philanthropic – ‘love of humankind’ – journey.
Your job is to guide folks over the river, through the woods, up the mountain and wherever else their individual journey may take them until they find their own special place. The place where they are comfortable. And happy. And, yes, where they feel their passions lie.
Your job – as fundraiser and nonprofit professional – is to help your donors see the way to greatness.
Then facilitate their experience. Take them by the hand, help them to overcome any obstacles in their way, and ultimately enable them to fulfill their dreams.
“Director of Donor Service” captures a part of this. I’d say it would be the equivalent of “customer service” in the for-profit realm. But it sounds too much like just a supporting role. A very important one but, in my experience, donors need support and leadership.
Donors want, and deserve, to be gently led to the place where they’ll find the best experience for them. The ultimate value-for-value exchange that will help them achieve their highest level of meaning.
To create life-long donors imposes on your charity the obligation to do something proactive to fulfill your donor’s highest level needs.
Donors, like all human beings, are on a continual quest for meaning. It’s the existential search to be all that one can be. To feel self-actualized. In non-psychological or theoretical terms, at the self-actualization pinnacle donors just feel darn good. They carry around a warm glow, representing the realization of their potential and inner peace.
Another way to describe this is the search for meaning in life. For most people, meaning is deeply intertwined with community connections. Victor Frankl in his famous chronicle on the search for meaning wrote: love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Humans want to feel a sense of connection and a sense of purpose to life. Giving (time, money, and energy) is a central way we strive to find meaning.
What is the best title for a person whose role is to take folks on a passionate philanthropy journey and facilitate a meaningful ending? Please leave your comments below.
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