Is “fundraising” a dirty word?

Continuing yesterday’s thread, I think we might need a new job title.  “Fundraising” is stigmatized – it sounds transaction-y and narrow and kind of like something you don’t want to do.  (If there’s a job out there that no one can fill, then I probably don’t want it, right?)  “Development” is not so great either – too euphemistic.

One approach is to borrow known words from the for-profit sector.  Personally I have no problem with “sales” because I’ve gotten to know lots of incredible salespeople, and I’m not hung up on the “have-I-got-a-deal-for-you” used car salesman baggage (it is so outdated that it’s lost its power).  “Business Development” seems equally OK, since it implies a level of partnership and co-creation that actually captures a lot of what this work really is about.

Everything else seems a little too clever by half, things like:

  • Head of Resource Mobilization
  • Chief Rainmaker
  • Director of Strategic Alliances
  • Capital Raiser Extraordinaire
  • Head Storyteller
  • Philanthropic Adviser (taken)
  • Etc.

If you ask the best fundraisers (and salespeople) what they do they will say things like: “build partnerships,” “steward relationships,” “mobilize resources,” “make connections,” “build networks and tribes,” “tell stories,” and “translate across lines of difference.”  Of course you “raise funds,” but the word has no moxie and I’m skeptical that we’ll succeed in resuscitating it anytime soon.

Maybe this isn’t all that important, but if we know that there’s a need for a new model of “fundraiser,” one with a broader remit, a deeper connection to the mission of the organization, and a defined role of bringing the voice of top stakeholders into strategic decision-making…  well we’ve got a branding problem on our hands.

Any ideas?

22 thoughts on “Is “fundraising” a dirty word?

  1. Raising funds is not an end in itself. Those funds are meant to do something. I do not want to be a part of “raising funds” but I do want to help people, support causes, further research, etc., etc. Keeping the focus on what the money is doing does double work: 1) It requires the “fundraiser” to have a strategic notion of what those funds are meant to do and 2) It takes the person providing the funds out of check-writer mode and into action/service mode. Win-win.

  2. Will depend upon strategic positioning (both for Acumen broadly and for this role narrowly).

    Paying special attention to who you hope to reach and how you hope to be remembered (i.e. philanthropic organization, provider of social capital, venture capital fund, etc) I would sit with the 1) job description/specific goals and objectives for this role (guessing it is much more than generating funds) 2) the positioning/mission/values statement for Acumen and use existing language as a stepping off point.

  3. it feels like an exercise in jargony things. fundraising is ok with me. it’s concrete. i would focus more on raising funds than redefining terms – just sayin’.

    maybe instead you change the meaning of the term by changing how you behave.

    fundraising implies not for profit.
    sales or bus dev implies for profit.

  4. Josh, thanks for your comment. I agree that this is part of something much bigger, not the whole story. It’s about behavior. But branding, language and what we call things matters too, don’t you think?

  5. I tell people, I reach out to community members and ask them to invest in realizing their non-profits mission statement. This can mean anything from raising money to volunteer recruitment and campaign management.

    Although too many words for fellow fundraisers, it’s just enough to provide understanding for everyone else, which may be the point of seeking another title.

    Philanthropic Opportunities Director?

  6. Hi. great – we can now start talking abou the elephant in the room! From my perspective and in South Africa, fundraiser is transaction,short term and a junior postion ( a volunteer moved on or ex sales person in new industry) and development/advancement is an unknown term! Empowerment also has different connotations .I agree that new terminolgy is necessary – not for the sake of it but to platform the real scope and skills. No I dont have a solution but am trying to find one as we are redefinign internally.
    I know we can all comfortably explain what we do but does require a longer sentence adn people can be misdirected if at initial introduction they are unclear and you have to explain in detail.One can look defensive and /or apologetic!
    i will probably have to stick with development director – for now as the rest in our context are simply too problematic. The only other choice is business development but again – focusses on the transaction and not the relationship. glad to be part of the conversation and look forward to more.

  7. branding matters. words matter. we get too lazy with words – especially us marketers.

    my question really stems from whether the rebranding of an industry term is worth the effort.

    joan has a point. maybe it is better to figure out what the role is for acumen, title it based upon what you think best describes what they do and then run with it. if it is good and simply describes reality, it will stick. i’m guessing.

    maybe action and a bit of a/b testing is better than pontification …mostly because it seems time and focus also matter. but admittedly i don’t live in your world and therefore half speaking out of my backside.

  8. This post deserves new attention. Rethinking the title “fundraiser” (and the role) can make all the difference in the results we see, in my experience.

    “Fundraising” is what the organization wants to get. “Philanthropy” is what the person wants to give.

    (Universities used to have a V.P of External Relations, until they got straight who’s in the center.)

    So “philanthropy” can work. But while we’re at it, do we want to consider the future, and the ascent of social enterprise?

  9. Sasha, I’m glad to say this question bewilders me.

    The reason I’m glad is because *not knowing* just might give us a reason to open a conversation with one of the trusted people who contributes (and is interested in the power of the words we choose).

    Each of us might know someone with whom we’ve experienced ourselves in the role that we want it to be in. Seems that the conversation is worthwhile, regardless of whether a title shows up along the way?

  10. ‘Pledge-Maker’ – Pledger?
    If I cannot pledge, I cannot expect anyone else to.

  11. There’s really nothing wrong with “fundraiser.” You accept up front that “salesman” encompasses everything from the pushy used car salesman focused on weekly sales goals to those who foster clients over a long time before money exchanges hands for product or expertise. Rather than look for a new term, better to make the case for the value of the old term–why it is valuable, connect the funds raised to the mission goals they make possible and get donors to feel the value of their contribution to that mission both before and after the “sale” is made.

    Some have made the claim that “development” is somehow different and broader. But the fact is, no matter how much you might dress up the job description with language about fostering relationships and representing the mission of the organization, if the primary metric of success for that person at the end of the year (or two years or five years, if you are more forward-looking) is a dollar figure, then you’re just using “development” as a euphemism for fundraising.

  12. I was at an organisation where my title was “Individual Giving Manager.” (As I didn’t deal with corporate giving or trusts/foundations.) I wasn’t keen on that title because it sounds more like a very specific internal description of what I did rather than an friendly, external facing title. I got them to agree to change it to “Personal Philanthropy Manager.” The problem with having the word “fundraiser” in your title is people can be reluctant to meet with you or even talk with you at a party if your title is on your name badge. As Jim Lord wisely said back in 2010 (his comment is above) fundraising is what your charity wants you to do. Philanthrophy is what the donor wants to do. We need to change the focus. That’s why I like using the word philanthropy in a title, though I like stewardship as well, especially when the charity is environmental.

  13. How does the word ‘advancement’ resonate with this group? I’m in the process of re-titling my team as we have ‘mobilization’ coordinators’. What does that even mean? The primary function of the role is to create awareness, generate interest in our NPO, build relationships and ultimtately develop donors. Any advice?

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