Why fundraisers want to use jargon — and why we shouldn’t

Let me introduce you to a very useful term: Wat/San.

In the international relief and development sector, it means “water and sanitation programs.” It’s useful because water and sanitation programs are common and various. Having a short way of referring to them speeds up and smooths out a lot of communications.

A few years ago, I visited projects in northern Uganda on behalf of a nonprofit. One day, I was told we were going to “visit Wat/San.”

“Who’s Watson?” I asked, labelling myself as the newbie.

At the project site, we were treated to a song and dance performance about the Wat/San project: Young men, wearing traditional tribal clothing, accompanied by drums and mbira, sang in their language. I could make out the word “Wat/San” in their song.

So I learned that in the heart of Africa, where it matters, the term “Wat/San” was well-known, even integrated into the language and culture.

And back at headquarters, everyone but the new intern knows all about Wat/San. Not knowing the term is a sign of cluelessness.

I like hidden knowledge. It pleases me to know this term.

But do the donors?

Probably not one in a thousand.

And that’s the problem. Saying “Wat/San” marks you as an insider. And it marks your donor as an outsider.

Which is not a promising way to motivate the donor to give.

One of the most important and effective ways you can empower your donors is to speak their language. Don’t make them learn yours.

It behooves you to be educated about your cause. To learn the insider terminology like Wat/San and sustainable and capacity building and at-risk youth.

But when you’re talking to donors, keep those terms in your pocket. Use non-specialist language.

(This post first appeared on May 23, 2018.)


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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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About the blogger

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.