Big old dictionaryIn every workplace there’s language that only makes sense to the insiders.  Call it jargon, lingo or acronym heck… every job has it.  Working in the non-profit world is no different.

When you first start out in non profit management you may encounter terms that sound like a foreign language.  Don’t worry, there are some great resources out there to help you learn the basics and beyond.

A Non Profit Glossary is available online from the Non Profit Good Practice Guide.  I like how each entry shows related terms.

The AFP Dictionary, another great resource, is available in a downloadable PDF.

To me there are two vitally important terms everyone, paid staff, board member or volunteer must understand.  And then a third that is especially important for fundraisers.

1. Mission -  We’ve started with an easy vocab word right?  According to the aforementioned Glossary, it is the “measure by which a nonprofit organization measures its success.” (Did they use the word measure twice?  I thought so.)

Okay so you have a mission statement.  It’s in a book somewhere.  But true mission goes way beyond a  formality.  It’s what your group strives to accomplish in order to solve a particular problem. Write your mission on your board meeting agendas, talk about it in staff meetings, and keep it at the forefront of decision making.  Ask yourself at the end of each day, how did we succeed at fulfilling our mission today?

2. Vision – A vision is “the ideal future the organization is striving to achieve.” (Glossary)  It’s the inspiration that drives you to continue your work.  The best vision statements describe what the world would be like without the problem you are addressing.  For example, the vision of The Shelter for Abused Women & Children in Naples Florida is “a community without domestic violence so that every home is a safe haven for the family it shelters.”

Imagine the world if the problem were solved and you were out of business. This “out of business” analogy has a tendency to scare people a bit (eh, I don’t want to lose my job.)  But if we are more concerned with the infrastructure itself and not addressing mission and vision there’s a problem.

Also consider that often once a particular problem is solved there are related ones that are just as vital.  Case in point: The women’s suffrage movement had as its vision to grant the right to vote to women.  In the United States this long battle was won on August 26, 1920.  With their vision achieved, activists could close up shop right? No, the war was still on…Now they had to make sure that the law was actually enforced.  It led to groups such as the League of Women Voters who are still thriving.  Today this group provides non-partisan voting information for everyone, men and women.

So vision is what truly drives you toward something that might ordinarily seem impossible.  It’s the grand dream, your ultimate desire for the world and your reach toward the extraordinary.

3. Case for Support – Having a good idea for a good cause is one thing.  But actually demonstrating an authentic need that is not being address by others is another.  The case for support, also known as a case statement, shows “the reasons why an organization both needs and merits philanthropic support, usually by outlining the organization’s programs, current needs, and plans.” (AFP)

It’s vitally important for fundraisers to know, understand and believe not just in a cause, but justifying your group’s existence, its approach to the problem and its genuine deservedness for funds.  If you have no case for support, you have no non-profit organization.  The AFP offers a greater explanation of the case for support here: FAQ: The Case for Support.

Beyond the Basics and Communicating with the Outside World

Beyond these basics there are many other terms and ideas.  Many are important, others just for particular work areas and still others are just for the show-offs.

When it comes to communicating to your donors, volunteers and other constituents it’s better to show rather than tell them these ideas.  Leading off a fundrasing letter by saying “our mission statement is…” is internally focused, not reader focused.  And it’s just plain boring.  Instead show your mission in action.  Demonstrate how you are making your vision a reality for individual clients.   Let them know why this cause and how your group in particular, addresses it.  Then your case for support will speak for itself.

Additional wise words about not being to wordy are offered by several non profit experts:

Avoiding Jargon for Stronger Nonprofit Marketing Copy Getting Attention Blog

A List of Jargon You Love to Hate–Don’ts for Effective Nonprofit Marketing Copy another from Getting Attention Blog

Play the Buzzword Bingo with Kivi

Jargon in the Nonprofit World: Contributions From Readers from the Chronicle on Philanthropy

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Posted on 24 October 2008

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2 Comments For This Post

  1. Linda Oberhaus, Executive Director says:

    Dear Sandra,
    Your support for The Shelter is very much appreciated. The Shelter for Abused Women & Children saves and changes the lives of battered women and their children. Because of our donors, our participants have safety when their lives are in jeopardy; counseling to survive constant emotionally devastating attacks; conflict resolution to educate children who live in violent homes; a life free from abuse. Thank you for sharing our vision, “that every home be a safe haven for the family it shelters.”

  2. Danna says:

    I truly believe in the the saying “actions speak louder than words”. It is best to show concrete facts rather than just explaining in plain fiction.


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