Skip to content

Titles Matter to Donors By John Curtis

What Titles Matter to Donors?

Russell James, Ph.D. at Texas Tech University has recently completed a study of the Effectiveness of Fundraiser Job Titles. “His findings should give your Development Department reason to pause and, perhaps, move away from organization-centered titles to more gift-focused titles… his research shows that titles DO matter.”

In the past, some ministries may have feared using words like donor or fundraising instead opting for terms like Development or Advancement. Now, however, the beliefs, attitudes and values that supported these obscure titles are outmoded and rapidly becoming ineffective as ministries work to transform themselves in the 21st century or risk extinction.

Dr. James surveyed 3,188 respondents to test 63 fundraising-related job titles in four charitable scenarios: 1) Charitable bequest gifts, 2) Gifts of stock, 3) Gifts of real estate, 4) Charitable gift annuities.

All about you & NOT the Donor

Measured by which person donors would be more likely to contact to discuss each of these types of donations, the worst-performing titles were the traditional organization-focused fundraiser job titles, in particular those using “advancement,” or “development.”

As Dr. James noted, “The term ‘development’ is most commonly used interchangeably with ‘fundraising’ today. However, the use of the term ‘development’ originated at Northwestern University in the 1920s and had a broad meaning that encompassed a variety of institutional objectives.”

Similar to the history of the term development, “advancement” originated from university fundraisers at the 1958 Greenbrier Conference. The original conference documents show that this conference “concerned itself with the internal mechanisms of the organization, not its relationship with the rest of society, e.g. donors.

Although organization-focused job titles remain common, philanthropy has or should (to capture a larger slice of the chartable pie) move toward the more successful donor-driven approach to fundraising. Being Donor-Driven means working to earn the right to help the donor practice their beliefs or fulfill their personal values or carry on a family tradition by making an investment in the mission of your organization. All philanthropic efforts are about the donor… but how do you best describe what you do?

Worst Performing

The one generating the lowest overall likelihood of donor contact among all 63 tested was “Director of Advancement” and ALL titles containing the words development or advancement were found in the 10 worst-performing titles.

Best Performing

Gift-focused titles appeared to perform better with “Director of Donor Guidance at #10 of 63, “Director of Donor Advising” #5 of 63, and “Financial Advisor for Donors” #1 of 63. The top three included “donor” and all referenced a positive benefit for the donor, i.e. guidance, advising or financial advising.

The bottom line is that we now have empirical research that shows titles DO matter and changing to more gift-centered ones will enhance donor perceptions. Most important, however, is that IF your fundraising function is nonexistent, underperforming or even doing well, this study might be an interesting conversation starter at your next Executive or Board meeting.


John Curtis, Ph.D. is the founding partner, Christian Higher Education, Inc. John’s firm has a proven track record in bringing sound organizational principles and leadership practices to Christian institutions and ministries nationwide. He also teaches fundraising, strategic planning and board development for the Edyth Bush Institute for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership at Rollins College in Florida, the Georgia Center for Nonprofits and the Duke Nonprofit Management Program in North Carolina and Virginia.


Through the Outcomes Leadership Core powered by Lead Like Jesus you now have access to a unique Biblical DISC® Assessment which helps you as a leader discover and embrace your God-given identity. It also equips you to use that knowledge for personal and team benefit. See your unique design through a powerful biblical lens.



Get an early jump on the rush and enjoy EXTRA savings. Register for the Outcomes Conference 2019!

Bring the whole team and multiply the impact.



What is Christian Leadership Alliance?

Christian Leadership Alliance equips and unites leaders to transform the world for Christ. We are the leaders of Christ-centered organizations who are dedicated to faithful stewardship for greater kingdom impact.

Upcoming Events

Check back later!