Transaction complete.
Our choice of words often carries more meaning than we might intend.
You’ve had the experience, I am sure, of saying something that was meant to be more indirect than you really meant it to be, and the other person calls you out with: “Well, what are you really trying to say?” And you are caught having to explain what you REALLY meant.
Or you may use a word that carries a different meaning for the other person than it does for you. Once that word is out, you can’t take it back – you can only watch the effect of it on the other person. And you feel regret. Or you want to explain.
Our choice of words can reveal what we really mean – what is in our hearts shows in public. Our words can change how we actually think about things. That is why you should be cautious about using negative language, as it can change not only the hearer but also the person using it.
The older I get, the more I have trained myself to keep my mouth shut – not to just blurt out what is in my head, and to be careful about how my words affect others.
All of this sensitivity to language and words has caused me often to reflect on one word and a two-word phrase. They are often used in fundraising in general, and particularly in major gifts. Jeff and I have written about this before. Here they are:

  • Prospect
  • Annual fund

The use of these words makes me uncomfortable. Here’s why.


I know that most everyone who uses this word means “prospective donor” when they use it. But when you use the word prospect to talk about a donor, you reduce the person to an economic source, rather than a human being who is a partner.
That is why I object to the use of the word. Your donors are people with hopes, dreams and wishes for our hurting planet. And they should be talked about and considered as partners in what you do, not as potential givers.
Giving is the second thing they do. Being a partner and participating in your great mission is the first thing. It is important to keep this hierarchy in perspective.
And if you keep using the word “prospect” to describe them, believe me, you will treat them as a transaction. You will have spoken that reality into existence. Please do not do that. Call them “donors” or “partners.” That is what they are. And they are one of the most precious relationships you have been privileged to steward.
You might say I am splitting hairs here. That it really doesn’t matter. “Prospect.” “Donor.” It is all interchangeable, right? No – it does matter. It will shape how you treat them.
And a person who is not a donor, is he really a prospect, or is he a potential donor? You might be wagging your head impatiently as you read this. That’s OK, I understand. Just believe me that your choice of words defines your valuing system. What you value will drive your behavior.

Annual Fund or Annual Giving

This is an unfortunate choice of words to describe an economic activity that happens once a year. Read our blog on killing the annual fund. It covers our thoughts on this subject. In essence, the annual fund is about money and giving ONE time during the year. It is not about relationship. It is not about getting great things done. It is not about investment and the long term. It is a one-time-a-year transactional event. That is what is wrong with it. It suppresses giving, reduces donors to sources, and is strategically and economically flawed as a concept.
Let us show you the fundraising numbers for the organizations who use these systems. High attrition, low average gifts. It is one of the worst fundraising concepts around. Get rid of it.
Donors who are invested in your cause will give more than once a year, will have a proclivity to upgrade their giving, will get involved more in your mission, and will be more loyal.
Words. Easy to toss around. But they carry great meaning. That is why Jeff and I are relentlessly talking about the use of these words – because we want to part of contributing to a shift in major gifts, from a transactional paradigm to a relational one.