Fundraisers’ job titles can affect the likelihood of donors engaging in conversation with them about donations, new research has found.
The paper, Testing the Effectiveness of Fundraiser Job Titles in Charitable Bequest and Complex Gift Planning by Russell James, a professor at Texas Tech University in the US, found that fundraisers with traditional "institution-focused" job titles – such as "director of development" or "director of institutional advancement" were less likely to be contacted by donors to discuss their donations than people with gift-centred or donor-centred alternatives.
The research was based on a survey of 3,188 US adults who were shown 63 job titles and asked who they would be most likely to contact in four giving scenarios: a charitable bequest gift; a gift of corporate shares; a gift of property; and a charitable gift annuity.
The worst-performing titles were those that focused on the charities concerned, in particular those using the terms "advancement", "institutional advancement" or "development", including when respondents who had made large gifts ($500 or more) were taken into account. The worst-performing job title of all was "director of advancement".
The research did not identify a clear best-performing job title, but it did find that gift-focused titles, particularly those referencing "gift planning" or "planned giving" performed well, possibly because they were tested in scenarios involving legacy gifts and charitable gift annuities. Titles specifically referencing the donor, such as "financial adviser for donors", "director of donor advising" and "director of donor guidance" also performed strongly.
"Institution-centred job titles may not be as effective with donors given the modern shift toward donor-centred philanthropy," says the paper. "Non-profit managers might do well to consider the donor’s perspective when selecting job titles for fundraisers rather than following traditional industry practices."
The paper says, however, that institution-focused job titles might have positive attributes among workers, colleagues and job applicants at the charities concerned, which might offset the negative impact they have on donor engagement.
It also says that charities might risk creating a false perception by adopting titles that go too far in suggesting the fundraiser is there to provide donor-centred advice.
It notes that fundraisers might also reject job titles that communicate to their managers that they do not fully and exclusively represent their charity.
"This highlights the conflict between the need in modern philanthropy to be donor centred and the reality that, contractually, fundraisers answer only to the institution," the paper says.
It says that one way to avoid this conflict would be to use donor-oriented titles that do not specifically imply donor representation or benefit. Although not performing quite as well as other options, the more neutral donor-centric titles "chief donor relations officer", "chief donor officer" and "director of donor relations" all performed better than average.
Another strategy recommended by the paper, which avoids the "donor versus institution" conflict, is to use "gift centred" job titles, such as "director of trusts, estates and gift planning" or "director of estate gift planning".
The paper says: "The fundraiser focused on ‘gift planning’ appears as one who has knowledge and experience, especially in the context of complex scenarios, and can thus be a valuable resource for the donor without having to make an express representation of 'donor versus institution' allegiances."