The case for jargon in fundraising

On almost any list of fundraising don’ts, you’ll see something like this: Avoid jargon!

It’s fairly good advice. But not always.

There are some excellent reasons for using the right kind of jargon. It can make you more persuasive and connect you more closely with your donors. If you do it right.

Jargon is nothing other than specialized language. People talk and write in jargon because it’s useful for expressing specialized concepts. More important, using jargon marks you as an insider.

Those of us who work in direct mail fundraising throw around all kinds of jargon: Carrier envelope. Driver. Remit (accent on the first syllable, of course).

It’s easier that way. We don’t have to say “the envelope that all the other stuff is in when the package mails.” If you had a professional colleague who never used the jargon, you’d think he was a little slow.

Professions aren’t the only groups that have jargon. Faith communities do. So do localities.

If you’re raising funds from homogeneous groups that share a jargon, by all means use that jargon. It’s a way to show that you and the donor are in the same group. You speak the same language.

Two guidelines for jargon use in fundraising:


  1. Be very confident your audience will understand whatever jargon you use. The jargon that kills fundraising is the jargon that excludes donors.
  2. Look at your motive: Be sure you’re using jargon not to show them how smart you are, but how smart they are. That will help you find the jargon that includes donors.


Comments

4 responses to “The case for jargon in fundraising”

  1. Jeff,
    Thanks for brining this to light. High time.
    Even “new jargon” can forge a bond with donors. For example, jargon that helps donors to feel like insiders (and helps them to feel smarter as a result so they are proud and happy to share what they know with others) is a very good thing. Used judiciously and clearly explained, it can elevate — not alienate. I’ve done it, still do it, and it works.
    Bravo.
    Lisa

  2. Jeff,
    Thanks for brining this to light. High time.
    Even “new jargon” can forge a bond with donors. For example, jargon that helps donors to feel like insiders (and helps them to feel smarter as a result so they are proud and happy to share what they know with others) is a very good thing. Used judiciously and clearly explained, it can elevate — not alienate. I’ve done it, still do it, and it works.
    Bravo.
    Lisa

  3. Well, I never thought I’d see the day… Thanks for busting this myth Jeff!
    The first step, of course, is helping some orgs see that list segmentation is worth the effort.
    Excellent additional point, Lisa!

  4. Well, I never thought I’d see the day… Thanks for busting this myth Jeff!
    The first step, of course, is helping some orgs see that list segmentation is worth the effort.
    Excellent additional point, Lisa!

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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