And, the Championship Title Goes to…

What’s in a name? For William Shakespeare, perhaps not much. After all, the Bard wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But, when it comes to the term “planned giving,” maybe a name does matter.

In one of my blog posts early last month, I explored “Is it Time to Dump ‘Planned Giving’?” I looked at the relative value of using the over-arching term “planned giving” compared to other terms, particularly from the perspective of Search Engine Optimization. My conclusion was in favor of “planned giving.”

While “planned giving” might be the most effective term for SEO purposes, Pam Milczarski, one of my readers wondered if it is the best term for use in a job title. If only 37 percent of Americans say they are familiar with the term “planned giving” (Stelter), is it really the best name for what we do? In other words, does the job title “Director of Planned Giving” really mean anything to donors and prospects? Is there a more meaningful job title?

Conversely, I began to wonder whether there are truly terrible job titles. Can some job titles actually engender a negative reaction from the public? For example, based on nothing more than personal feeling, I can’t stand the title “Planned Giving Officer.” It seems organization-focused, officious, and almost militant. 

So, I pose these questions to you:

  • What is your fantasy job title for a Director of Planned Giving? Here are a few ideas: Director of Gift Planning, Director of Legacy Giving, Director of Philanthropic Planning. Do you prefer one of those or do have another in mind?
  • What do you think is the worst possible title for a planned giving professional? You already know I don’t care for Planned Giving Officer.

Please take a moment to share your thoughts about your favorite and/or least favorite planned giving job title in the Comment section below.

While we’re at it, I don’t particularly care for the title “Director of Development” since, I suspect, most folks don’t know what that means either. So, please share your thoughts about what might make a better overall development title. Perhaps you might prefer Director of Philanthropy, or Director of Advancement, or maybe you’re perfectly happy with Director Development.

I think job titles are important. Ideally, they express to the outside world what it is you do and suggest, more importantly, what you can do for the person reading your business card.

So, let me know what you think the championship title is.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

26 Comments to “And, the Championship Title Goes to…”

  1. Michael,

    Decades before the term “donor-centered” entered the fundraising lexicon, it was my belief that one’s job title and terminology ought to be geared to our donors. So, although I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing one of his silly bowties, within hours of hearing that Charlie Collier at Harvard had dubbed himself “Senior Philanthropic Advisor,” I swiped his title.

    Establishing a perceived distance between myself and the institutional hierarchy created an aura of independence – and therefore, objectivity – while communicating to donors that they were dealing with an experienced senior professional, whose function was to collaborate, rather than compete, with their own advisors.

    It also saved me the trouble of having to Scotch tape two business cards together in order to fit my previous job title (Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler of Gift and Estate Planning).

    As to the issue of “planned giving” vs. “gift planning,” they are NOT interchangeable terms. The former describes a program that promotes tax-planned charitable gifts, while the latter describes a process undertaken by the party making the gift. More importantly, if a fundraiser uses the title “Director of Gift Planning,” or something similar, they are leaving their institutions wide open for liability if a donor suffers damage as a result of relying upon their advice. It also amazes me how many fundraisers with no legal or financial credentials or training cavalierly adopt the job title.

    On the matter of “planned giving officer,” not only do I agree wholeheartedly, but I’ve been saying for years that, unless you are representing a federal service academy, a military school, or the Salvation Air Force, the title is awkward, cold, and inappropriate. “Representative” or “liaison,” though not imaginative, would seem more suitable.

    Lastly, one of the most inflated titles that I’ve seen in 30-plus years of gift planning was: CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER of the Department of Planned Giving and Endowments (Sorry, Neal, but you have to admit that you left yourself wide open.)

    Having stood the test of time, I think Charlie Collier’s title remains World Champion (but I still think his ties – and suspenders – are pretty goofy).

    Respectfully submitted,
    Jeff Steele
    The Planned Giving Curmudgeon

    • Jeff, thank you for sharing your terrific insights. I do like the “Philanthropy Advisor” idea. I think its elegant, and clearly explains to donors what you can do for them. I think donors will understand that the holder of such a title is advising about philanthropy to their organization. However, I’ve heard a few folks suggest there is nevertheless some room for some confusion with donors thinking the philanthropy advisor is somehow representing the interests of the donor independent of the organization and, therefore, the donor will not need their own truly independent advisor. I think that risk is minimal, at most, and can easily be entirely mitigated if the development professional encourages the donor to seek independent advice at an appropriate time.

      Of course, I also liked your mention of the title: “Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler of Gift and Estate Planning.” It’s definitely in the same league as “Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Planned Giving and Endowments.” 🙂

      Finally, as for Charlie Collier’s wardrobe, I just want to say that not every guy can pull-off the bowtie look. I don’t think I’m one of them. However, I’m right there with Charlie when it comes to suspenders (just not when I have to go through airport security).

  2. Michael,

    I second Jeff Steele’s thoughts about Senior Philanthropic Advisor or just Philanthropic Advisor. It denotes providing a service and I have found the title usually engenders admiration by people in first-time introductions.

    Richard Bray

  3. I kind of like Vice President of Special Gifts. Every “planned gift” is special and it kind of separates it from the rest of the “development tool pack”.

    • Lorri, thank you for your nomination for best title. I do like the notion of “Special Gifts,” but aren’t all gifts special. Hmmm. I guess, however, some gifts are more “special” than others. 🙂 The thing I do like about “Special Gifts” is that it acknowledges that we’re seeking something beyond the usual annual fund contribution.

  4. “Philanthropic Advisor” is my favorite on this list – the New Paradigm in Giving means that we have to become a trusted advisor, not a “product pusher.” While I don’t like getting caught up in titles, a good title can remind us to remain truly donor-centered and not self-absorbed.

    • Laura, thank you for your comment. I completely agree with you that we should not get too caught up in job titles. I’ve seen some that are just too creative and, as a result, devoid of meaning. And, I’ve seen some that are simply terrible such as “Planned Giving Officer.” So, I think a little attention to job titles is ok particularly if, as you’ve stated, it helps us to remain truly donor centered.

  5. I think “Philanthropic Advisor” can be a daunting title and scare off some potential donors. I think most donors in the PG/GP realm do not realize their potential to give non-cash assets. Once educated by an astute “employee of the charity” they may convert themselves to a “Philanthropist” and feel they are joining a group at a higher level of giving.

    It seems that “Philanthropy” has a lofty connotation.

    • Patrick, thank you for joining the discussion. I have mixed feeling about “Philanthropic Advisor.” Some have suggested it has merit while some find it a bit problematic. I understand both points of view. I will say that, while not perfect, I do like it better than most of the traditional planned giving job titles. If you don’t like “Philanthropic Advisor,” what title do you prefer?

  6. I’m a Director of Annual Giving and Special Gifts, so I’m partial to that moniker. Yes, all gifts are “special,” but it gives us an opening for talking with donors about gifts of stuff, beyond their regular annual gifts.

    I agree “Development” and “Advancement” are too ambiguous; of course, that helps if you want to fit a lot under them, but it may lead to confusion, at least in educational settings. We are an “Advancement Office” and one of my favorite stories is of an encounter with a new parent who innocently said, “Oh, will you help my son graduate?”

    • Christina, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I enjoyed your story about the parent who was confused by the term “Advancement Office.” I hope you told her that for a large enough contribution, you would indeed help her son to graduate. 🙂

  7. Planned Giving has always suggested to me that every other gift we were to receive was somehow unplanned or spontaneous. I agree with Jeff that the current titles that abound are fairly cold, off-putting, and conjure images of anemic gentlemen in black suits, sitting in cold offices with quill pens. I do, however, think the “Mystic Ruler” has possibilities and bet it has a cool crown to go with it. 🙂

    Seriously, “Philanthropic Advisor” sits comfortably with me because it’s donor centric and yet acknowledges the cultivation of the gift from both sides.

    • Lisa, thank you for your comments. I agree that it is certainly helpful to use a job title that is donor centered. That means a title that focuses on the donor and is understood by the donor. So many traditional job titles fail on both counts.

  8. Settling on the “right” title will obviously be a matter of personal and professional preference, and should relate specifically to the exact nature of one’s work. When I was a Development Director, there were plenty of people outside of the nonprofit realm who really did not know what that meant; most thought it had something to do with real estate development, which was especially discouraging because I was DD for a conservation org and nothing of the sort. I like many of these words on their own; it’s when we start mixing them together I get troubled. For instance, I can’t abide the term “officer”, and to me “donor” has always sounded too clinical. How to boil all of these titles down to crystallize something that is clear and understandable in laymen terms? I like “advisor” because it speaks to the relationship we have with “donors”, and our role in supporting them to make investments according to their interests and with groups likely to provide social ROI. I also like what my friend Robin Johnson at Social Currency is doing: she’s a “Philanthropic Concierge” and focuses her services on serving “results-oriented” donors. I don’t have any real issue with the term Philanthropy/Philanthropic – in my experience, donors/benefactors who are ready to make an impact, and make a significant contribution, are not only aware of what this means but they identify with it. Charitable Giving Advisor anyone?

  9. I’ve toyed with this question for awhile as many of you have as well. I’ve always liked Philanthropic Advisor (another nod to Charlie Collier) but there has been some institutional resistance to use the term “philanthropic” out of concerns that most donors don’t think of themselves as philanthropists. OK,…

    I’ve also liked Donor Advisor for its simplicity, but others seem to think that it is confusing because of donor advised funds; I tend to think that’s a point in our favor – I’m happy to draw attention to my institution in the same light as Vanguard and Fidelity and help donors understand what I can do for them (even if they don’t see themselves as philanthropists….).

  10. Thanks for opening this conversation, Michael. I really have wished for a better answer for years and am still not sure what that job title would be. To be honest, in my early twenties, when out at night on the party scene in Toronto, I would tell people I was a graphic designer just to avoid having to explain gift planning at 2am!

    Richard Marker at Wise Philanthropy had some thoughts on the Philanthropic Advisor question that might be interesting to others in this conversation:

    I think part of the answer has to do with what works in your local market. “Philanthropic Advisor” or “Development Officer” works well in a bigger city with a more sophisticated set of donors. I tend to get very strange looks with that in smaller centers.

    Will be following and enjoying the discussion here…


    • Christina, it’s always a pleasure hearing from you. Thank you for your comments and for sharing the link to the Richard Marker commentary. I agree that “Philanthropic Advisor” works, primarily because it’s donor-centered. However, I still have a problem with using the word “Officer” in a job title for anyone who is not a member of a police force.

  11. Michael, you asked for worst job title. This one isn’t within the realm of fundraising, but I thought you’d find it amusing. In the old days, before computers took over printing, there was only one way to get a picture printed. It was for someone at the printers to cut out a negative and “strip” it into the page. Professionally, their job title was “Strippers”! How’s that for a job title you don’t want to use?

    Good blog, as always. Very thought-provoking.

  12. Michael – interesting stuff. I’ve been a Development Director and Director of Development…and now I’m Director of Philanthropy. Sometimes a flashy title can feel like a burden, but other times it’s required to make the connections necessary for a community-based NPO.

    A side note, I recently read Blake Mycoskie’s (founder of TOMS Shoes) “Start Something That Matters.” There’s a section on job titles in which the author offers some unconventional ideas:

    “At TOMS, everyone has a title containing the word ‘shoe.’ I’m Chief Shoe Giver. Candice, who in the early days held our company together, is Shoe Glue. My assistant is Straight Shoeter.

    “When you dispose of formal titles, no one knows the pecking order. Both an executive vice president and an intern can have solid-sounding titles. Innovative titles offer a great way to gain access or tap resources from nothing: I can let a recently graduated 22 year old with the title of Shoe Provider talk to the senior buyer at a major department store.

    “In the long run, titles are simply a way to get the job done. If a new employee can call herself the vice president of partnership and use the title to get in the door with a big prospect, why not let her be vice president of partnership? Tomorrow she can be something else.”

    I’m not quite ready to embrace all of Blake’s advice, but you can’t argue with his success. I found the book consistently entertaining and motivating, and coincidentally enough, I’m giving away a free copy on my blog at (hope you don’t mind the gratuitous self-promotion).


    • Matthew, thank you for your comments. I’ve heard Blake speak, and appreciate his perspective. His take on job titles is interesting. As for your self-promotion, I’d mind it a lot less if that free book found its way into my hands. 🙂

  13. I vastly prefer Director of Philanthropy to either “Development” or “Advancement”, both of which have to be explained. From a donor perspective, philanthropy is what we’re all about. The single title I most abhor is “Director of Major Gifts”. I think that one scares prospective donors away in droves. Who wants to be approached for a “major gift”? Whew! Get your hand out of my wallet, please. I love human kind, and all that, but whatever made you think I was going to do something major? And last year no one thought I was major, because the “Director of Annual Giving” called me. You get the drift… I actually considered once calling myself either “Maven of Money” or “Diva of Dollars”, but the focus was too much on the money and too little on the love. So, working in the Jewish community, I considered “Tzarina of Tzedakah”, but then the focus was too much on autocracy and too little on the volunteers. But this naming thing has always been a struggle.

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