Changing Our Terminology

I’ve skated around this topic in some different capacities in the past. Much of my thinking in the All Donors As Major Donors section connects with the philosophy that every donor has value. Upon reflection, I’m not sure if I’ve taken things far enough. It almost sounds like we need a new mantra–something like “Everyone’s a Potential Partner.”

Do you think it would be valuable for us to change some of our terminology? Do you think the word prospect is dehumanizing? What bothers me about the word is that it places the value of one type of interaction with an individual above all of the rest of the potential interactions. It points to them as a potential gift not as a potential friend and partner of the organization.

Do we need to throw out words like prospect which focus on the contribution side of fundraising? What about words like donor, solicitation, acquisition, and major gifts? Maybe that upsets the coffee cart too much, but I am curious what you think.


2 Responses to Changing Our Terminology

  1. KatieG says:

    I have been thinking this over since the “I Am Not a Prospect” piece and I am going to throw this out there…The word “prospect” doesn’t bug me. To me it is “prospective donor/volunteer/advocate/customer/relationship.” I am no one’s major gift prospect, but I am sure I am a volunteer prospect, annual fund prospect, prospective advocate/grant proposal writer/etc… I think it is a useful internal word to talk about people you are hoping to involve in your organization in some way. Maybe working in fundraising has made me less sensitive to this term. It seems like the more important thing is how you handle the relationship, not what you call it.

  2. Janice C. says:

    What’s a major gift? At this point in my life, donating $1,000 is pretty major to me. But I doubt it would be considered a major gift at most organizations large enough to make that distinction. In other cases, I’ve seen donations that meet our criteria for a major gift, but I know it’s a drop in the bucket for that donor. I think it goes back to whether you’re thinking about things from the organization’s perspective or from the donor’s. If you found out that someone had overheard you talking about them to a colleague, would any of these terms (prospect, solicitation, major gift, etc.) make you feel embarrassed?

    I’m fairly ambivalent about all of those words in and of themselves, but being a writer, I think the important takeaway here is to think about the language we use – not just what those words mean to us, but what they might mean to our audiences.

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