Advancement professionals routinely talk about their desire to “create a culture of philanthropy.”
Far better, I think, to “create a culture for philanthropy.”
Our cultures shouldn’t be of philanthropy. Our cultures shouldn’t be idly possessed or inactively influenced by philanthropy.
Instead, our institutional cultures should be for philanthropy. Our cultures should actively promote, enthusiastically inspire, and earnestly value philanthropy. We should strive to build cultures that proactively engage philanthropy.
Similarly, some development folk use language that suggests their work centers on making things happen to donors. For instance, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say they are planning to, “put the pressure on” the donor. Or “twist an arm.” Or “target” a donor. Or, “sell” a donor.
Far better, I think, to conceptualize our work as occurring with people. We should be engaging donors with our missions. We should be inviting donors to align their support with their values. We should seek to accompany, encourage, and guide donors as they discern the role that generosity will play in their life’s story.
We should be listening, laughing, mourning, exploring, planning, and implementing with our donors.
The words we choose matter.
Words not only communicate our thinking to others. They also shape our own thinking.
Even the little ones.