Things We Need To Stop Saying

Words have meaning, and they matter. You wouldn’t know it by looking around these days at business leaders, politicians and the likes, but they do. In nonprofits, we have lots of words and phrases, and in my view, a good number of them are overused. Here are a few in our lexicon I think we can do without — not comprehensive by any means, and if you have others, please share them!

  • Touch: In the 80s I think it was okay to talk about engagement with constituents as “touchpoints,” but… now we live in a different time. I read a recent annual report from an educational nonprofit, noting they “touched” 10,000 children through their programs. I might just be a focus group of one, but for me that’s a big old #FacePalm.
  • Community Outreach: It’s as bad a phrase now as it was decades ago, and it has a smarmy feel of the “haves” giving something to the “have nots.” What’s worse, it makes the gross misassumption that the “have nots” actually want it. If you must, call it “engagement,” but only if you really mean it. No one wants your pity outreach, and even less people are funding it these days anyway.
  • Curate: This may be my bias having spent far too many years nonprofiteering in the arts, but curating is a verb best suited for museum folk. We — the purveyors off programs and throwers of events — do not curate things, we offer experiences — experiences in which our constituents participate and, hopefully, enjoy.
  • Let’s Brainstorm: Let’s not. Why? Because at the end of this faux exercise, we’re just going to do what you want anyway. So why don’t you just give me some marching orders so I can get back to laughing at memes on my 30-minute lunch break.
  • Leader: Leadership is a practice. If you do not practice leadership, you are not a leader; simply having done something for X number of years does not make you one. So please, for the love of Zod, stop calling yourself a nonprofit leader, when at best you’re a lackluster manager who people tolerate so they can make fun of you to their peers at happy hour. [Note: You are also not seasoned.]
  • Um: This is more of a public speaking matter, but it has to go. In my view, our field is the field with heart, and when we talk about our work, we want to do so intelligibly, and with warmth and passion. Inserting “um” every seven words makes us sound immature, uninteresting and unprepared. Slow down, have a Coke, give your brain a moment to prepare the right words, then proceed.
  • Nonprofit Rate: Call it a charity rate, a discount or any number of things — either way, it’s nonprofit speak for “cheap.” It’s one thing to have a budget, but if you can afford to pay for something, please don’t request it for free. Statements like that are what give our industry an unnecessarily bad name.
  • Let’s Revisit This Later: What exactly is wrong with visiting this right now? Apart from the fact we have too many dang meetings that could have been e-mails, there’s no time like the present to discuss the thing we’re already discussing. So can we please save future time for future things, and have the darn conversation right now about which awful shade of yellow the gala invitation will be?

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