July 31, 2003

Fund-Raising Job Titles

Q. I am currently being recruited to return to a position I held for a number of years at a museum. My title had been director of development, but I would like to have a different one in my new tour of duty. Fund-raising titles have evolved over the years (i.e., "advancement," "development") and I was wondering, could tell me anything about current trends and what it all means?

A. A quick scan of fund-raising job listings reveals that "development" is still the most common job descriptor in the profession. And while the terms "advancement" and "development" are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference in meaning between the two. According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals' just-updated Fundraising Dictionary; "advancement" is defined more broadly than "development." Advancement, says Michael Nilsen, the association's spokesman, is "the process of building awareness and support from all constituent bodies and programs, including development, public relations, and government relations." That's in slight contrast to development, which he says is "the process by which an organization increases public understanding of its mission and acquires financial support for its programs. Development is more focused on fund raising."

But if you're longing to spice it up on your résumé, Thomas J. Sullivan, president of the Children's Memorial Foundation at Children's Memorial Hospital, in Chicago, has a suggestion for you.

"Why not opt for "director of philanthropy?" he says. "It's calling it like it is and would effectively communicate the essence of the position and the work it entails. We use the term 'philanthropy' as frequently as possible in our work out of the conviction that it conveys a strong, positive message regarding the nature of our endeavor. The term 'development,' despite its common usage in the profession, can still be misleading to those who may not be familiar with the vernacular," he says.

Donor confusion over the word "development" was the reason that Diana Tiernan asked for a new job title three months ago. As director of development of the Big Sur Land Trust, in Carmel, Calif., which protects land on the central California coast, she often encountered supporters who asked her, "What are you developing?" Says Ms. Tiernan, "It was negatively affecting our mission." After much deliberation, she and her organization settled on "director of philanthropy" as her new title to clear up the confusion -- following the lead of the Nature Conservancy, the international land trust with headquarters in Arlington, Va., which also uses the "director of philanthropy" title.

Although environmental groups may have the most compelling reason to ditch "development" as part of their job titles, she says, other charities may also find that the public grasps "philanthropy" more easily. And it's less "in your face," as she puts it, than other alternatives, such as "director of major gifts." "If you're being approached by the director of major gifts, there's not much mystery about why you're being approached," she says.

"The biggest problem with 'director of philanthropy' is that it's a mouthful," she concedes. "But it seems to be the most dignified and descriptive. It's a grown-up title for what we do."