More Nonprofit Terms We Need to Change

By Moshe Hecht


We all want it. We all think it. We all talk it. And some even try to walk it – hoping that some shot in the dark will somehow hit some target, somewhere.

Many of us working in the nonprofit space live and breathe to be a force for change in the world.

We work ourselves thin, day after day, until all that’s left is some shadow-faced, vitamin-D deprived creature, limping around our homes like an escaped cast member from the White Walkers’ army.

A few months ago, I published an article in eJewish Philanthropy titled “Seven Nonprofit Terms We Need to Change,” suggesting a radical shift in the most frequently used terms we use. I am humbled, and infinitely inspired, by the overwhelming feedback it’s received, and this present article comes in response to the various warriors in the space who asked me to address what seems to be a general frustration within the nonprofit space. To insist that if we are finally to make change happen, we have to go big.

We cannot be incremental. We have to change our perceptions, our very lexicon, for a rapid reimagination of the landscape. So without further ado, let’s continue this conversation going with more terms we need to change. Who knows, maybe we’ll make an entirely new nonprofit dictionary!

Stewardship vs. Partnership

To create radical change, we need to stop treating our donors like customers and start seeing them as actual partners.

It is not enough to whip out the books every once in awhile or send out an annual report and call it a day. To foster greater transparency, connection and to inspire new supporters (especially millennials), we have to maintain regular, real-time, communication, so that our donors stay informed of the impact they’ve helped create.

But it has to go even further.

Real partnership happens when both the nonprofit and for-profit industries come together and birth the change we all crave.

When we enter the workforce, most of us believe there are only two options: 1) Enter the nonprofit space and make a difference (and a lot less money), or, 2) Give our talents to a big business and make, well, a lot more money.

The two choices do not have to remain in opposition. In fact, they both need each other. For any partnership to work, there’s the public and private partner: the innovator and the visionary. One is not greater or lesser than the other. Without the private partner, the operation would cease to exist. Without the public partner, there would be no one to implement change.

The point is, those who choose to work outside of the nonprofit sector shouldn’t feel trapped. That they can’t make a difference for a cause they care about simply because they aren’t employed by that organization. That even if we are a real estate developer in Miami, we can still improve education in Ghana.

So let’s make partners, not stewards.

Culture of Philanthropy vs. Culture of Values

We’ve all heard (and used) the term. But what does a “culture of philanthropy” really mean?

Is it creating a culture within your community that makes giving hip and cool? Where potential donors are educated as to the urgency of the cause? Where everyone understands why their own hard earned dollars are necessary and vital to your organization’s survival?

We operate under this belief that once this happens – once people finally understand how integral their donations are – they’ll be self-motivated to give more, fundraising will get easier, and we can all get a decent night’s sleep for the first time in ages.

But I think we can do better.

Because the majority of us already get it. We understand that organizations need our help to do good in the world. We know our contributions are important, recognized and appreciated. And to imply otherwise is just insulting. But no matter how much we know or care about your org, we will never care as deeply about it as you – the person who lives and breathes for the survival of this cause – will care. And so creating a “culture” of the external manifestations of giving is not a sustainable way to engage long lasting support.

What we need to be doing is creating a culture of values. Of kindness, selflessness and commitment, one in which our leaders live by example.

The Baal Shem Tov once taught “A soul may descend down into this world for 70-80 years just to do a favor for another.” And so when we give, we fulfill a life-mission, creating soul connections far surpassing any amount of money. We may never meet again – or may have never met in the first place – but that connection remains.

When we get down to it, it’s not really about “philanthropy” at all, it’s about living a life with purpose. If fundraising is a slave to philanthropy, as so well described by the great Hank Rosso, then perhaps philanthropy is a slave to kindness.

And this is much more empowering.

Direct Mail vs. Integrated Communication

We hear about direct mail a lot in the nonprofit space. And despite taking a few punches from email and social media, direct mail is still alive and surprisingly effective.

It’s like feathers and clogs, at some point what was considered “old fashioned” can suddenly become quite innovative. Because a letter in the mailbox has become an endangered species in modern communications, it has the power to grab someone’s attention much more than the ceaseless clamor of social media notifications.

But even so, direct mail still needs to be integrated into a broader vision for engaging donors. And this is true for any of our chosen communications. We need to shift our focus from trying to decipher which method of contact will pique which specific demographic, and instead build an integrated solution for communication incorporating direct mail, email, and social media.

When we adopt a more holistic synergy for communicating our story and impact, it increases the effectiveness of each point of contact.

Imagine, I wake up in the morning and get an email about your organization. Then at lunch, I see a short behind the scenes video on insta-stories or facebook. And finally, when I get home and open the mailbox, there’s a letter from you. When you build your narrative in this way I – the potential supporter – see a more expanded and unified perspective than by just receiving an isolated email, letter or tweet.

This is even more critical when launching a fundraising campaign.

When that time of year comes around, think how to shape your narrative using these various methods of storytelling. Send an email, post an official video, shoot some behind the scenes clips in real-time. And finally make all this magic come together with a personalized message delivered in their hands like they’ve just been accepted to Hogwarts.

In shifting our perspectives, focusing on values, partnership and integrated solutions we can eliminate frustration and channel our collective energies into being the change we all want to see in the world.

Moshe Hecht is chief innovation officer at Charidy. An entrepreneur whose passion lies at the intersection of technology and charitable giving, Moshe personifies the company’s “why” and is a driving force in its vision and success. @moshehecht @wearecharidy