Guest Post: Putting The Wrong Labels On Boxes That Don’t Actually Exist

In my post last week about poorly written job descriptions, Stephen Brown asked if I would address his perception that the title “Development Director” was something of a misnomer. Thinking that he was well along in considering this topic, I invited him to submit a guest post on the subject.

Soon he recognized the trap I had laid for him as his thoughts on the matter took hold and flowed across the page! With his permission, I have broken his post up to appear across the next two days.


-Joe Patti

Many of Joe Patti’s articles inspire a moment of contemplation during my hectic days. I am often motivated to contribute to the discussion, and occasionally hit “submit comment” before wishing I hadn’t; two sentences are hardly enough to express myself properly. This time, though, Joe sent a thank-you note and offered the opportunity to expand my thoughts in a guest post. Here goes:

Risky Labels

When making the acquaintance of someone new, “What do you do?” is usually one of the first questions asked. Personally, I prefer the question “How do you make people’s lives better?” because it stimulates the sharing of passions and dreams rather than a job title. How do you respond when a person asks what you do?

Most of the time we use a label we think the inquirer understands: Conductor, Composer, Coach, Musician, Administrator, Performer, Director, Writer, Educator, Marketer, Project Manager, Producer, Leader, Renaissance Man, Jack of All Trades, or Emilie Wapnick’s coinage, “Multipotentialite.”

However, trying to fit your life inside someone else’s box has never worked. As Frank Luntz says in Words that Work, “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.” By using other people’s labels we risk confusion, appear boring, or sound like an unfocused busybody who jumps from one job or box to another (when children do that, we label them as having ADHD and medicate them out of creativity).

Future Negative Impact

Maybe one reason why the Western world struggles to maintain a healthy relationship with live performing arts is because we use misleading language, labels and boxes. This is hardly a revelation, but I have yet to hear about a sensible discussion that explores the issue seriously and recommends prudent alternatives.

By adopting others’ labels and holding on to them, the performing arts industry is becoming dated while serving only its own entrenched addicts. According to Gary Vaynerchuk in Crush it!, we have neglected to “look ahead and see what could negatively impact our businesses.” We have absorbed mid-to-late twentieth century labels we think the “outside world” understands and at no time considered their future negative impact, which is now upon us. For example, let’s look at the USA non-profit world’s common term “Development Director.”

Have We Got It Backwards?

Ask anyone who has contact with non-profit leaders what a Development Director does, and they say “fund-raising.” Ask anyone with no experience in non-profit management, and they say “develops products or services.” In fact, taking the usual responses and listing them, the description sounds remarkably like an ideal Executive Director: Develops the people, programs, finances, operations and strategic planning of an organization. It seems backwards to me. Perhaps both positions have the wrong labels.

Even Board members, who are often unfamiliar with non-profit language even after training, can be confused about a Development Director’s role. Merriam Webster defines Development as an act or process that causes something to grow or become more advanced, and Oxford defines it as a “specified stage of growth or advancement.” even includes Development definitions for music, construction, chess and mining, but none of them refer to fund-raising, asking for donations, or submitting grant applications.

Disparity of Definition

For the small business or corporate representative on your Board, every product, service and process in their company is being developed, was developed, or will soon be developed. R&D is not an abbreviation for Research and funD-raising. In fact, Development usually results in new and improved ways of achieving the same outcome, which is hardly what fund-raising does.

This disparity of definition is caused by a lack of communication, which Dave Ramsey suggests in EntreLeadership is due either to communication not being a priority, or sufficiently “arrogant or fearful” leaders who are under-communicating on purpose. To a lay non-profit Board member, a Development Director is simply a layer of bureaucracy lean organizations can do without.

What we can do without is putting the wrong label on the wrong box.

A New Condition

Joe’s original article highlights that some organizations believe the Executive Director’s role is primarily (75%) fund-raising, and that their Board members clearly have no appreciation for the ED’s actual function, how their organization functions, or what a Development Director does.

In fact, he thinks his case study “reflects a lot of poor practices that have permeated the non-profit arts,” and I agree. So much so that I, too, am angry enough to share my thoughts about it.

Now throw into the mix my suggestion that the term Development Director is whole-heartedly misapplied and must be dropped, and we can put a new label on the new condition we are in: a mess.

Tomorrow – What Are The Alternatives?

About Stephen P Brown

Two-time Global Music Awards Winner, British American Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown has shared his zeal for live music, dance and drama for over 35 years throughout the USA, UK, Europe and Africa. He is a deeply adventurous and creative visionary currently Conductor of the Richey Community Orchestra & Chorus, the Dunedin Concert Band, and Sunfonia Chorale. He founded the Medway Chamber Orchestra and Pinellas Percussion and is on a #PsalmQuest to write 150 new pieces of music by his 50th birthday. Brown also has experience in arts-unrelated small business management and Corporate Quality, and is a certified Associate in Project Management.

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