Jargon ban

We all know that good writing and speaking is free of jargon.  But jargon is insidious.  It’s not just obscure acronyms and five-syllable words.  It’s language that is devoid of human warmth.  Very helpful for manipulating concepts in strategic plans and budgets.  NOT helpful for talking to donors.  Think about it.  The donor wants to know that his or her contribution is making the world a better place.  What happens to that enthusiasm if you talk about personnel issues, finances, or other administrative tedium?  If the donor asks questions about people or finances, of course that is a promising sign of engagement.  But the relationship does not start with anyone wanting to balance budgets or pay salaries.  So please don’t start with the mundane.

It is natural that the internal details occupy our heads.  Those are the problems we are solving every day.  So it takes a deliberate re-orientation to talk on the level that makes sense to people whose relationship is primarily inspirational.  Here are a couple of tips.

  • Remember what you first learned about the organization and why it attracted you.  Connect with why you first flushed with pride about working there.
  • Listen to donors talk about why they are inspired.
  • Follow program staff around for half a day.
  • Imagine you have been invited to do a Career Day presentation at your daughter’s fifth grade class, and you want her classmates to tell her how cool her mom or dad is afterwards.
  • Declare next Monday a Jargon Ban day — anyone who uses jargon in the office has to put a quarter in the jar.


It’s a new year, and the Jump Start Growth Blog is being repurposed.  Instead of philosophical/inspirational musings about fundraising, 2014 blog posts will contain short, practical suggestions that (I hope) you can implement right away to make your relationships with your donors more vibrant.  And my resolution is to deliver them to you, dear reader, every Thursday.

Speaking of resolutions, are there donors or prospects that you have been meaning to reach out to, but simply have not made the time?  Have you been hesitating because you don’t know enough about the individual to feel comfortable picking up the phone?  Here are three questions to help get over that hurdle:

  • Does the prospect have the capacity to make a significant gift if he or she gets excited about our work?  (You have to determine what constitutes “significant”) for your organization.
  • Does the prospect have a likely interest in your organization’s work?
  • Is there someone in your circle who is in the prospect’s circle and can make an introduction? 

If the answer to the third question is no, ask around a little bit, and if you still come up with nothing, reach out yourself.  The only thing worse than a cold call is no contact at all.

Let me know if you have questions about how to strengthen connections with your donors.  And happy new year!