Are you “of” or “for”?

What is your title?

Assistant Director of Annual Giving? or Assistant Director for Annual Giving?

Associate Vice President of Development? or Associate Vice President for Development?

Vice President of Advancement? or Vice President for Advancement?

You get the point.

Little words – even those we regularly gloss over – can have a big impact on how we approach our work.  Think about the words “of” and “for” and their use in titles.  Are you “of” a position?  Or are you “for” a position?  As compared to using “of,” the use of “for” in titles has always struck me as more proactive, enthusiastic, and coated with the patina of advocacy.  The person is “for” something.

“Of” makes it sound as if the person is encompassed by and contained by the position.  The position holds them rather than them driving the position.

Now you might say that this is all well and good, but it doesn’t really matter.  Who cares?  Who even pays attention?  I would suggest the very best advancement leaders care and pay attention.  And I would suggest that words do, in fact, matter.  They paint pictures in our minds about reality and how we should behave in it.  How we talk about ourselves and our work help define our success.  Words help create cultures.  Even little words.

And, no, I don’t think that changing the word “of” to “for” in titles will, in isolation, radically change the productivity of a team.  I do, though, believe fully that the very best, most effective, and efficient advancement teams pay careful attention to all aspects of their culture to encourage the very best performance.  They pay attention to the big issues  – like values-based performance metrics – and they pay attention to the seemingly tiny issues – like the “of’s” and “for’s.”

In my experience, most productive advancement professionals want to be “for” something much more than they want to be “of” something.


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