What’s In A Name?

Over the years, I’ve struggled (and watched as others have struggled) with how to title development officers.  What is the appropriate title for those folk whose primary role it is to identify, cultivate, solicit, and steward donors?  “Fundraiser” of course lost out some years ago when people thought it was too narrow, and more importantly, lacked refinement.

Some of the choices currently en vogue along with my primary concerns are below:

  • Major/Leadership/Principal Gift Officer – these titles verge on the offensive – if I’m an annual fund donor, is it ok for me to talk with a Principal Gift Officer?
  • Advancement Officer – focuses too much on the institution and leaves the donor as the “tool” to make the “advancement” possible.
  • Development Officer – does the donor need developing? Or is it the institution that needs developing with the donor there to make it happen?  And don’t forget the questions about real estate development.

So, here is my question:  Why don’t we use the title Stewardship Officer more? Currently, of course, a Stewardship Officer is typically someone who works with donors once a gift has been made.  But I think this relegates the concept of stewardship into far too narrow a definition.

Merriam-Webster online lists the definition of stewardship as:  the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially : the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.  A steward is one who actively directs affairs:  a manager.

Isn’t it our job to manage the relationships and the gifts of our organization’s donors?  Stewardship is understandable and explains well what we should be doing.

This isn’t simply semantics.  My sense is that we need to recapture the essence of our work.  To reaffirm the true goals of our efforts.  From my standpoint, development officers hold in trust relationships, dreams, and even organizational brand – not to mention gifts.  They hold these things not simply for a short period, but, in many instances, for the long-term.  They are, I am suggesting, Stewardship Officers.


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