The Power of Words: From “Cultivation” To “Engagement”

Recently, I was involved in a strategy meeting with the president, vice president, and campaign chair for a higher education institution.  The vice president was discussing how a key high wealth donor prospect had become excited about the purpose of the campaign and that a solicitation had occurred.  She said, “Our major gift officer was able to go from ‘cultivation’ to ‘solicitation’ with this prospect very quickly.”

At that point the Board chair said the following:  “Can we talk about that word for a moment?”  With blank stares all around, it was clear we didn’t understand what he meant at first so he clarified.  “That word, ‘cultivation,’ I’m not real fond of it.”  He went on to say that the word, “cultivation,” to him conjured up images of a farmer manipulating soil and tending crops.  “And working with people is much more complicated that tending fields,” he said.  And then he said, “And it also makes me think of manipulating people.  The word just isn’t always used in a positive way today.”

I was surprised by his statements, but I agreed, “yes, words do matter, don’t they?  What word or phrase should we be using?”

And his reply was perfect. “Well,” he said, “aren’t we trying to get people to better understand why we are in this campaign and the difference it will make for our institution?  Why don’t we use a term like ‘Engagement?’  Engagement means we are getting people involved, helping them to understand why this is important, and inviting people to join with us.  You ‘engage’ with someone.  You are not doing something to them.”

Yet another example of why our work is a social practice.  Get people involved, listen to their perspectives, and, yes, be mindful that they might remind us on occasion about the true nature of our work.

Discovery – Engagement – Solicitation – Stewardship.  Yep, that does sound better.

1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Great points, thank you.
    FYI: Kathy Drucquer Duff recommended your blog to the webinar attendees (Creating an Attitude of Gratitude/ADRP Webinar 7.23.13).

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