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Kelly Segal Consulting

Words Matter–Let’s Change Them

Fundraising. I’ve seen rooms of people cringe at the mere mention. It’s a word with infinite negative associations–residues from years of bad practices. I’d suggest we call the whole thing off if there weren’t so many life-saving, world-changing, mission-driven organizations in serious need of support. Raising funds thoughtfully is necessary, though wherever possible I try to sidestep the word.

Like the term fundraising, the nonprofit vernacular includes a few other key words I’ve often thought could use a makeover.

Gift. While this word improves upon donation or contribution to describe a financial designation to a nonprofit organization, for me it always rings a little hollow. A gift is something commonly tied in a bow–often lovely, but not serious.

Instead, I prefer investment. Gift giving, while a nice thing to do, lacks the sturdiness of making an investment. When we invest, we are putting money into something that we expect will appreciate in value. A gift says, do as you please, while an investment is an act of faith and a vote of confidence.

Donor. Organ donors save lives. This word is on the back of my driver’s license so that, sorry to be bleak, if something tragic should happen, those on the scene would know my intentions and get to work. Each time I hear this word, a crucial, life-saving action is brought to mind. This word is important, but I think should be used mostly for that.

Instead, I prefer investor. To reference one who gives money to high-impact, nonprofit organizations, the word investor is a better choice. Investor feels more like the individual taking action has a stake in outcomes. An investor seems likely to care about the health and reach of an organization.

Management. Client and/or customer management is more commonly heard now than donor management, but both for profit businesses and nonprofits are rapidly replacing that word with stewardship.

I prefer stewardship because If we think of our customers as investors in our organization’s mission and vision; and we aim always to deepen that relationship, then management in term and practice falls short. Depending on the context, there are many definitions of stewardship from business to biblical, but all of them refer to a careful, thoughtful process of tending to resources.

Over time it’s become natural, but I’ve made a concerted effort to swap out these few words in everything I do from one-on-one conversations, to persuasive writing pieces, to leading workshops. I encourage those I coach and mentor to do the same. I’ve found choosing more thoughtful language in this work, alters our mindset and helps us execute with more intention. In turn, we are able to strengthen our organizations’ relationships with investors, build greater social capital, spread our message more rapidly, and ultimately increase impact.

It’s all doing good, it’s just done better.


  • February 17, 2019

    Change ‘non-profit’ to ‘comm-profit’. Communtiy profit organizations

  • February 17, 2019

    Such an amazing article

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