What We Say Matters

Most of the individuals that regularly read my blog are not individuals that I see on a daily basis. I had a great conversation with a friend of mine who also happens to be a donor. He also happens to be one of those individuals that knows me personally, professionally, and as a blogger. You can read his guest post earlier this month, “I Am Not A Prospect.”

He really challenged me to think carefully about what our terminology really means and how it impacts our thinking.

I like to think of fundraising as an opportunity for an organization to link with an individual who has similar interests and passions as the organization. Using the word prospect can dehumanize that interaction and make it only transactional, regardless of whether the word is being used publicly or privately. Maybe a better phrase is a “potential partner” to the organization.

I want to promote a conversation around nonprofits doing a better job creating authentic relationships with individuals (and businesses) who care about the issues they believe in. That means that I need to write using terminology that supports that perspective. That also means we, as a Foundation or Development Office, need to increase the kinds of partnerships we can create beyond a simply financial focus. We need to develop advocates, opportunities for in-kind gifts, and take time to engage community members as thinking consultants. A few weeks ago, I brokered a meeting between a vice- president at the hospital where I work and a potential supporter who is an executive at a technology/business intelligence consultant business. The outcome was that this potential supporter will provide perspective on some of the upcoming business intelligence software decisions we are making. This is a great example of engaging potential supporters as partners.

My friend justifiably challenged a perspective that I did not realize I was perpetuating. There is a need for a paradigm shift in the way fundraising and development is approached (fund is in the word fundraising, that’s a great example of how engrained that thinking really is). It is going to take a long time to right the way we think and talk about development. But, it is important that we do.


One Response to What We Say Matters

  1. Monte Greenshields says:

    I agree wholeheartedly! All too often we underestimate the power of language and its residual impact. While we most likely develop sector “lingo” we must step back and view (listen) to how these words land on those outside the sector.

    I used to be the director of an animal welfare agency in a mid-sized city in Alberta, Canada. I was new to the industry so I was able to listen with “new ears”. Some of the terminology did not sit right with me. For example the word shelter is commonly used throughout the industry and in the general public. However what does this word imply? What baggage does it carry? Safe harbor? Perhaps. But more importantly “last resort” or “last hope”… perhaps even the end of the line is also implicit with this terminology. Quickly we became an animal welfare and education centre. We were not the end of the road rather, we were a new beginning!

    I think it is with this attitude we must carefully review and consider the language we choose regardless if it is in or out of house.

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