I can’t believe what my mother-in-law just called me

Thanksgiving, many years ago. I was home from university, at my parents’ house for the holiday. A handful of relatives were there too, including my grandmother, long considered the master cook of the family.

It was a Thanksgiving meal, with turkey and all the typical side dishes.

My Mom worked frantically to pull it all together.

A couple of hours before the big meal, disaster hit.

The power went out.

Leaving a half-cooked turkey, and most of the side dishes still cold.

Looked like a complete loss.

But Mom got out the old propane camp stove and the outdoor barbecue. The weather was lousy, but she managed to cook the turkey and everything else out on the tiny, windblown back porch.

The meal was delicious and plentiful. Nobody got a foodborne illness.

Afterward, Grandma (my Mom’s mother-in-law) took Mom aside and told her something that has long lived in family lore:

“Jackie, you are a real chump.”

Mom was staggered. She couldn’t find a thing to say in reply.

What you need to know about Grandma is she was nice. Super nice. No matter what happened, no matter how annoyed she might have been about anything, she could find something nice to say. So when she called Mom a chump, it was probably the first time any of us heard her say something remotely not nice. It was a shocking and seemingly unprovoked slap in the face.

The next day, all the guests gone, Mom was still asking, “Why did she call me a chump? I thought I did a pretty good job!”

Then it occurred to us: Maybe “chump” didn’t mean the same thing to Grandma that it meant to us. We looked it up in a slang dictionary (which we had, being a Family of Nerds).

Sure enough, “chump” means “a gullible, incompetent person.” Just as we thought.

But there’s another meaning, labeled as “obsolete”: “a winner; a highly capable person.” The dictionary speculated that this version of “chump” is an alternate pronunciation of “champ.”

Suddenly, the whole thing made sense. Grandma was being Grandma. She was responding to the situation exactly as most people would. But with a word that confused the rest of us.

I’m telling you this because it reminds us of something important for fundraisers.

We’re communicating largely with older people.

And older people are different from younger people. In a lot of ways:

  • Culturally different.
  • Psychologically different — your brain changes as you age, causing you to be more empathetic and emotional.
  • Physically different — and where that matters most for us is eyesight.
  • Different life experiences.
  • Different design sense — they formed their sense of what’s “cool” a long time ago, when cool was very different from what it is now.
  • And different words. Even different language.

You see those differences even within the same family.

This is one of the reasons fundraising is challenging. You’re talking across a cultural divide, one that may not be obvious — after all, if someone is a donor, they clearly share values with you.

It’s easy and natural when writing or talking to guide yourself by what you find persuasive and motivating …

  • Your design and aesthetic sense
  • The facts that persuade you.
  • Your sense of appropriate and/or cool.
  • And especially your slang, which you might not even recognize as slang.

Those things likely will fly right past someone from an older generation.

So be a fundraising chump (or champ, if you prefer): Keep your eyes, ears, heart, and mind open. It’s how you connect with other people.


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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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