I write every day so I have to be a word guy. I’m always searching for just the right thing to say. But I rarely use a dictionary or thesaurus to find the right word. I use words that any grade-schooler would know. Replacing concrete nouns and hard working verbs with soft and lazy four-syllable words isn’t my style. I’m not interested in growing my vocabulary. I want to use the words I do know clearly and compellingly.
Most of what I hear and read from nonprofits makes me cringe. The words they use are vague and lifeless as their aim is to play it safe and be all-inclusive. “Cut these words and they would bleed,” said one writer. But nonprofit words are limp, empty, and dry. In a world where you have to work harder than ever to stand out from your competitors, words are your ally.
Here are four words nonprofits should stop using, and the red-blooded words that should replace them.
Bad word: Underserved
Better word: Poor
I used to work for a nonprofit that described their poor patients as underserved. But underserved to me is when you order a pepperoni pizza and they forget the pepperoni. That’s underserved! I understand the need to use words that are respectful, but calling people underserved doesn’t describe who they are or why they need our help.
Bad word: Synergy
Better words: Win-win, Partnership
If I ever start my own line of sports drinks, I plan to call it “Synergize!” Until then, I won’t use synergy, or any of its variations. And neither should you. It’s an overused, glib word that isn’t good for anyone.
Bad word: Challenging
Better words: Difficult, Bad
The economy isn’t challenging. It’s sputtering. It’s stalled. It sucks. Pick a word that says what you want to say about whatever is supposedly lacking. Your nonprofit isn’t challenged. It doesn’t have the money, people, vision to solve the pressing problem it’s trying to fix. That’s the kind of organization I want to support.
Bad word: Charity
Better word: Partner
I like to say that “Charity is for chumps.” Charity is a word for the lowest form of giving. It’s what I call “go away money.” Here’s a check, now leave me alone. Most businesses I work with aren’t interested in charity. They want to support nonprofit partners that are making things happen for whomever they serve and for their company partner. I never visit a business looking for charity. I always begin by offering something first. It shocks people that I’m putting something in their hand instead of expecting a check in mine. My next step is to explore ways to work together that will benefit both of us. I don’t want a one-sided relationship. It will feel too much like a handout.
Charity is dead. Long live win-win partnerships!
I could go on and on, but let’s hear from you. What words do you think nonprofits need to stop using?