September 4, 2009

Defining what words mean is important. Make sure that those you communicate with – inside your organization…your staff and volunteers…your professional colleagues in the field – communicate with a shared understanding of meaning.

For example: “Philanthropy is voluntary action for the common good.” (Thanks to Bob Payton, first professor of philanthropics.)

— “Philanthropy is the act of individual citizens and local institutions contributing money or goods, along with their time and skills, to promote the well-being of others and the betterment of the community in which they live and work. Philanthropy can be expressed in informal and spontaneous ways or it can also be expressed in formal, organized ways whereby citizens give contributions to local organizations, which in turn use the funds to support projects that improve the quality of life.” (European Foundation Centre, Brussels)

— “Philanthropy is freeing the talent of the citizenry.” (Don Manuel Arango Arias, Mexican philanthropist)

— And here’s what Tom Ahern and I say in Keep Your Donors: The Guide to Better Communications and Stronger Relationships: “Philanthropy means voluntary action for the common good. Fund development is the essential partner of philanthropy. Fund development makes philanthropy possible by bringing together a particular cause and donors and prospects who are willing to invest in the cause. The goal is to acquire donors of time and money who stay with the charity. This is done through the process of relationship building. WIth the donor at the center, fund development nurtures loyalty and lifetime value, thus facilitating philanthropy. You know if your relationship building works because your retention rates rise and the lifetime value of your donors and volunteers increases.”

For example, “prospect” or “predisposed?” So you’re the Girls Scouts. And you define your “prospects” as everyone who gives to women’s organizations. Oops. No way. You might suspect that people who give to women’s groups might be predisposed to you, the Girls Scouts. But prospects? Nope. Not yet. Maybe never.

Here are some important basic distinctions. Make sure your staff colleagues and board members understand.

Predisposed: An individual, business, or some other entity whose interests and actions suggest a possible inclination or susceptibility towards your organization’s cause / mission. (“Suspect” is more common terminology. But who wants to hear anyone referred to in such a pejorative manner?)

— Prospect: An individual, business, or some other entity that has demonstrated an interest in your cause / organization. The individual has raised his / her hand by buying your services or asking to join the mailing list or… In some manner, in some way, the individual, business or entity has raised its hand signaling interest in your cause and your organization.

— Donor: An individual, business, or some other entity that has given a gift of time or money or service to your organization.

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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