Professional discourse: strategic exclusion that doesn’t belong in fundraising

I recently got a new prescription for glasses. You’ve seen those. Basically a bunch of codes and numbers. In one of those weird, idle moments when you pay attention to something you wouldn’t normally look at (you do that too, right?) I tried to figure it out.

I didn’t get far, but I did see something: One row of codes was labeled OD, and another was OS. They stand for Ocular Dexter (right eye) and Ocular Sinister (left eye).

It’s a secret code used by eye-health professionals.

Why do they use a secret code? Wouldn’t “right eye” and “left eye” work just as well?

It’s exclusivity. Excluding. That is, it’s gatekeeping.

Using codes based on Latin and Greek is part of what sets medical professionals apart. You’d think the encyclopedic knowledge they need would be enough. But using a dead language hardly anyone can read closes the gate even tighter.

I don’t want to claim all your docs are in on some kind of conspiracy. They just go with what they learned, and it works fine for them, so why bother translating stuff into the languages their patients speak?

Nevertheless, it is part of a very effective way to keep the gates closed to all but a few.

Are you using secret codes in your fundraising that effectively exclude some of your donors?

You might be. Most nonprofits are connected to some kind of advanced profession — like science, medicine, law, music — the has its own professional discourse. A way the people in that profession communicate with each other that effectively keeps others out.

No harm done, as long as the professional discourse stays among the professionals. (Though I did find an article at the National Institutes of Health titled It’s time to throw out old-fashioned Latin abbreviations. It argues for using peoples’ languages, especially in prescription.)

But when you use the code with donors, you are keeping donors out.

The excuse commonly given for using professional discourse in public is that they don’t want to “dumb down” their communications.

Which also means, We don’t want “dumb” donors.

That is almost viciously exclusionary. Elitism running wild.

If you value people who won’t — or can’t — get through the professional gates of your cause, use their language.

It’s ethical. And it raises more money.

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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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