Watch Your Language

Watch your Language - November 1995

A recent article in the local newspaper quoted a fundraiser as “sending out begging letters” and “hitting” people in the business community.

Those words made me feel decidedly uncomfortable. The reference to “begging letters” smacks of embarrassment and the word “hitting” when referring to a donor is perhaps more suited to a hard- sell sales person than to someone who is offering people and company representatives the opportunity to support a worthwhile cause.

If you happen to believe as I do, that fundraising is a noble profession and that the vast majority of those involved (whether as employees, consultants or volunteers) are there because they believe strongly in the cause and the work of the organisation, then words and phrases like “hit, put the squeeze on, get someone to cough up” have no place in your vocabulary. They demean the donor and they cheapen and debase the act of philanthropy that is so vital to the future of all our non-profits organisations.

You may well argue that companies that “buy” tables for gala dinners and the like are not motivated by philanthropic ideals but by peer pressure from colleagues and competitors. However, I still believe that if you use poorly chosen descriptive words when referring to their contributions to a charitable event, you will discourage future support and will further reduce what philanthropic motivation there might have been in the first instance.

So let’s clean up our act as fundraisers and event organisers! Let’s metaphorically wash out our mouths with soap whenever we are tempted to describe what we do in anything other than terms which will indicate commitment to a worthy cause and considered financial support. Donations are in fact an investment in a better life for those in need, often motivated by a desire to share what good things life has given us. Donors should be encouraged to develop a loyalty to an organisation that is doing good work in a sphere for which they feel an affinity.

Using the right language is just the beginning of developing respect for your donors. Sadly, too many non-profit organisations don’t show donors the respect they deserve – they are thought of as “targets” by fundraising staff or a nuisance and an irritation by administrative staff who handle incoming donations, complaints and acknowledgments. And some organisations even believe that their cause is SO deserving that it is their RIGHT to enjoy the continuing loyalty of donors – no matter how these donors are treated.

Why not do a “walk-about” through your organisation and listen quietly to how your donors are being spoken of and treated by staff. If things are not as they should be . . . call a staff meeting. Explain that donors are the life-blood of most organisations, that they are friends who deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and concern . . . and that they can stop supporting the organisation at any time if they feel neglected, unappreciated or taken for granted.

Better still, invite some of your regular donors to a tea and tour where they can meet key staff members. Urge them to talk about what is important to them and at the same time your staff members will start to see them as real people with feelings and concerns; not just names and a reference number on their computers.

The path to finacial security in the not-for-profit sector lies in the building of closer relationships with donors and the gathering around you the largest possible number of people who will remain loyal friends to your organisation for all the right reasons.

If your organisation is losing its donor base, call us. We can suggest a development program that will work for you and your donors.