“What’s in a name?” Maybe more than you think when it comes to major gifts.

I was recently asked to choose my own title, having started work to help a charity in the UK set up their major gifts programme.  Which got me thinking – what should go on my email footer?  And how should I be introducing myself to trustees, supporters who could give larger gifts, and internally to staff – many unfamiliar with ‘major giving.’  Our title can make an impression from the first meeting or interaction.

So what should we call our fundraising roles in this area?

 I find having major donor in the title unappealing.  Do those who give to charities (with gifts of any size) call themselves donors?  Would I call a supporter giving a generous 6 figure donation a major donor to his or her face?  It seems a cold, transactional term which often reminds me of my organ donor card in my wallet.  I may not be alone in this – the Cambridge dictionary definition for donor puts someone giving their blood or body parts first, above someone giving money to an organisation.  Unfortunately I have seen the term ‘major donor’ used face to face with supporters, and it was not received well. Whilst many organisations have moved away from this, it is still commonplace in the sector.

I’ve been called ‘Head of Relationship Fundraising’. Whilst true that relationships were at the heart of the work myself and the team were doing with companies, trusts and wealthy and influential individuals, the title didn’t always work well.  It could limit relationships from the start with those who wanted to help the charity through their connections or knowledge and skills, but not give financially – the ‘fundraising’ implied a financial gift.  I stopped giving out my cards when meeting supporters and potential supporters.

I have seen people bypass a job title externally altogether which is certainly one option, putting ‘Development Team’ or ‘Philanthropy Team’ on email footers and business cards.

Major Gifts is used frequently but I cannot get away from my instinct that the ‘major’ in the title could sound somewhat money-grabbing when someone hasn’t yet decided what level to give at.

Philanthropy being included in fundraising job titles is on the rise.  Many of the largest UK charities (and universities) now have Philanthropy teams.  These include Cancer Research UK (Philanthropy and Campaigns), Macmillan, Breast Cancer Now, British Red Cross and UCL.   Some UK charities are currently re-naming roles and teams to include the term.

I don’t believe the term is perfect. I’ve worked with supporters who didn’t view themselves as philanthropists, and it seems more focused on money than the term ‘gift’.  But reflecting on the definition below, it may be the best way to describe this stream of fundraising:

“Philanthropy – the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes”.
Oxford English Dictionary

So what should I call myself? I’m opting for Philanthropy Manager for this role but do share your thoughts.

What job titles have you been proud to use with supporters?  What do you feel best encompasses what we do?

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