7 Words That Hinder Your Advancement Success

  1. Donate – inviting people to “donate” is akin to asking for hand-me-downs.  People donate used items.  They donate old clothes, or used cars.  Generally speaking, donations are second-thought give-aways, not charitable investments in your mission. Use give, giving, and gift, instead.
  2. Appointment – advancement professionals don’t have appointments with donors.  We have visits or meetings.  The difference?  Appointments are reserved for experiences we typically don’t enjoy – think doctors appointments, dentist appointments, an appointment to have your car repaired, etc.
  3. Ask – when you ask for something, you feel a relationship imbalance – with you being on the “less than” side of the equation.  This reality of human relationships is why so many volunteers (and even many advancement professionals) do not like asking for gifts.  It makes us feel unequal to the one who is being asked.  However, when we invite donors to give, there is a different thought process and feeling.  We invite people to parties, and other enjoyable activities we’d like to share with them.  When we invite others, we are offering something, not asking for something.  Invite donors to give.
  4. Fundraiser – probably the most ill-conceived descriptor of a professional role that has ever been promoted.  We are not fundraisers any more than a business person is a “profitraiser.”  The purpose of any sound business model is to serve customers — the profit is the benefit of that service. For us, the funds we raise are the benefit of thoughtful engagement strategies designed to educate donors on the opportunity to give.  Use advancement, or development, or stewardship instead.
  5. Cultivate – this is what farmers do to crops or how you might train someone or something.  No part of that definition sounds appropriate nor accurate when compared to our work with donors.  Instead, use involve or engage.
  6. Culture of Philanthropy – perhaps the most overused, misunderstood phrase in our industry.  What exactly does this mean?  I’ve literally thought about this for years and I can’t concisely say.  In any case, I have used as replacements, the more straightforward and understandable, culture of giving, or, the more action-oriented, culture of invitation, or, the more ethereal, culture of encounter.  Simply put, when our institution’s culture becomes more other-centered and welcoming, gift giving increases.
  7. Qualification – from a major gifts perspective, the qualification word choice suggests that there is a pseudo-application process that prospective donors either meet or do not meet. Qualification suggests the process of learning about the prospective donor is little more than a formulaic algorithm to translate.  The truth, however, is that learning about prospective donors is richly qualitative and as much art as it is science.  It’s astute question-asking, active listening, and probing.  It’s being mindful of what is being said, not said, how its said, and paying attention to many broader contexts.  It’s a skill to be learned, not data point to be used.  In short, it’s discovery – use that word, instead.

Words matter.  And the way we talk about our work matters.  When we pay attention to our language choices, we may just find that we are sabotaging our success before we even get started.


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