Hey, Watch Your Language: A New Lexicon for our Profession
Twenty years and counting, and an abject failure. Well, not at everything, but at something important to me and for our work. I/we have failed to change the dismal language around fundraising and philanthropy. Professionals still cling to a denigrating lexicon around our work. Demeaning to the profession, the professional and most importantly the philanthropist. As Scott and I always say, “Words matter, words can get you anywhere, and the words we use define us and others.” Prospects, suspects, targets, pitches…really? Brings me to tears and not the joyous variety either. “Leaving money on the table,” do not even get me started on that one. I will say, however, that many have changed the language they use in teaching, consulting and the daily work we are privileged to conduct. Our respect goes out to these leaders. Yet, much more must be done.
When you meet people where they are with respect, you can help them aspire to their greatest potential, personally and philanthropically. Working in medicine for 35 years, we do not use the word ‘donor’ as there are many varieties of donors in medicine. More importantly, people do not want to be thought of merely donors, but can see themselves as benefactors of gifts of significance. Having true equity in important and just ideas.
Our language speaks to objectifying benefactors for their money rather than engaging them in meaningful acts of caring and sharing. Seeing philanthropists as a means to the ends, their contributions, rather than as ends in themselves. An "I- It" transactional approach rather than an "I-Thou" relationship-based stance (see Martin Buber’s work). This will bring back the nobility of our work and its spiritual rather than merely material orientation.
We have to start somewhere. Phasing out the old language and bringing in the new is a good way to begin. The chart below is just a suggested first step. We must build an awareness of the old unkind lexicon and an openness to a new way of thinking and talking about our profession and our benefactors. There will be more coming on this topic and a closer examination of the essential Shifts necessary to elevating our work.
Please join in co-creating a new dictionary of dignity and respect. Your edits, comments and additions wholeheartedly requested.
Best to you. Be safe.
Scott and Jim