The Fundraising Jargon

Isn’t it interesting how each sector has their own jargon? If you’re in the inner circle, then you know exactly what people are saying, but if you’re not…well, do you really want to ask? In the not-for-profit (NPO) sector, we definitely have our own vocabulary and I really do think it can be an obstacle in fulfilling our mission.

For instance, we all know the term fundraising. The word says it all, it is the act of raising funds for a given entity. Fundraising is very transactional. Think of the elementary school students going door to door in their neighborhoods selling candy to raise funds for their school. Or buying tickets to a gala that supports cancer research. The donor pays money to get something in return and the small profit goes to support the mission of the organization. Obviously, the amount of time and energy spent on transactional fundraising is intense for a little return.

Since raising funds through transactions isn’t as fruitful, NPOs transitioned into a development mindset. This means that the NPO is actively working to develop relationships between prospective donors and the organization and its mission. The goal is to cultivate relationships with individuals who are connected with the organization and believe in the mission and want to help advance the mission of the organization. This is otherwise known as advancement.

In order to effectively advance the mission, the advancement team focuses on bringing in various types of donations:

  • Unrestricted gifts: that go to relieving the operating budget
  • Major gifts: gifts that are over a certain dollar amount, such as a $5,000 that go to special projects
  • Planned gifts: gifts that come in through stocks, wills, and bequests…these gifts have to be planned ahead of time

Depending on the size of the organization, the advancement staff is responsible for engaging the organization’s constituents, marketing and communications, active solicitation of funds and stewardship. Many times, you will see staff members with the title of  “Development Director,” “Annual Fund Director,” or “Major Gifts Officer.” These are terms that came from the NPO world and the average person wouldn’t know. But if you break down these titles, these titles are very transactional:

  • Development Director: the person responsible for developing relationships
  • Annual Fund Director: the person responsible for raising unrestricted gifts
  • Major Gifts Officer: the person responsible for securing major gifts

As I mentioned above, these titles are very transactional and NPOs should want to engage their constituents because they want to cultivate the relationship between each individual and the mission of the organization. What we want is to cultivate a philanthropic culture throughout the entire organization. Every staff member and volunteer has a role in cultivating a positive giving environment.

If an organization wants to see an increase in donations, then NPO leaders need to stop looking at their constituents as wallets and truly buy into the belief that building meaningful relationships will help their organization thrive. It’s time to move away from the jargon and have authentic conversations and touches with the people who love the mission.

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