Words, Words, Words: The Language of Fundraising

Those of us working in philanthropy are all about jargon. We have LYBUNTs, SYBUNTs, 990s, planned gifts, legacies, CRUTs, foundations, public charities, annual donors, leadership annual donors, major donors, and principal gifts.  These terms are just the generic ones that don’t get into the great programs our organizations run. Those of us who have been in the industry a while think that the everyday language of our profession should be easily understandable, to everyone, but they aren’t.  I was reminded of this the other day when I was talking to a friend about several different fundraisers that I know, and he had to stop me when I was talking about leadership annual fund because he had no idea what I meant.

This reminded me that while industry specific terms likely will not come up that often with individual donors, something that we do have to watch is using the jargon of the programs we are using money for when interacting with donors, or even institutional funders such as foundations or corporations.  

Even if we work for the best organizations or best clients (like we do at The Gift!) it’s unlikely that even area-specific funders will know the intricacies of the everyday work that we do, and it is important to talk to them in clear and concise language.  When I first got into fundraising running annual appeals, the advice I was given was: “Write at a fourth-grade reading level, those are the letters that make the most money.” While I’m not sure if any science has been done that backs that up, the point is still a strong one  people want things explained in a simple manner that they can understand.  If your cause is good and it inspires them, they will want to know more and then you can have an in-depth conversation. The trick is getting them to that point first, and sometimes all the jargon can prevent that.