I Have No Idea What You’re Talking About [Nonprofit Jargon]

Every workplace has it. Every fandom has it. Every group of like-minded people has it.

I am speaking of the dreaded JARGON, of course!

Whether it’s very technical terms or phrases that permeate a specific genre, if you aren’t a part of that group, you have no idea what anyone is talking about.

See if you know what I mean when I say:

TV 

  • “Salt ’em and burn ’em.” (Supernatural)
  • “Walkers” (The Walking Dead)
  • “Big Block of Cheese Day.” (The West Wing)
  • “It’s bigger on the inside.” (Doctor Who)
  • “A girl has no name.” (Game of Thrones)
  • “No, Jack, don’t use the CrockPot!” (This Is Us probably. I don’t know. I don’t watch that show)

Sports

  • “Bagels and breadsticks.” (Tennis)
  • “Three up. Three down.” (Baseball)
  • “But look at his YAC.” (American Football)
  • “Canada will have the hammer!” (Curling)
  • “I can’t believe he used a 9-iron.” (Golf)
  • “Bend it like that very attractive man who married a Spice Girl.” (Soccer)

Listening to fans of these things go on and on about it when you have no interest at all is annoying, isn’t it? If you aren’t a fan of Star Wars you don’t care if Han shot first (which he totally did).

And if you aren’t in the nitty gritty everyday trenches of your work at a nonprofit, it’s annoying to hear about capacity building or leveraging impact. Although, I would argue those phrases are annoying even if you are in the nonprofit trenches.

If you missed yesterday’s Facebook Live chat or blog post on Inclusive Conversations, Kivi and Antionette Kerr covered more problematic jargon such as “At-Risk Youth” and “Marginalized Communities.”

Today, I am looking at the more wonky jargon you also need to stop saying, especially to donors and other supporters.

Here are just a few words that spark a negative physical reaction in me when I hear them:

  • Silos
  • Food Insecure
  • Stakeholders
  • Systematic
  • Unpack
  • Disruption
  • Persons of Concern
  • Sustainable
  • Impactful
  • Cultivate

You can find more here:

Why Do You Need to Stop Using Jargon?

First off, go back and read the title of this post. That’s reason #1 why you need to stop – no one knows what you are saying!

Yes, you can (sometimes) figure out jargon-filled phrases if you give it some thought, but your supporters are busy people. As I said in my post on making your writing easier to read, your average supporter can be college educated and have a great grasp on the English language, but she probably still doesn’t want to think too hard when reading about your organization. Make it too hard for them to understand and they will be turned off by your communications no matter how great your cause is.

You also need to use the same language your supporters use to better connect with them.  No one is searching on Google for “How to help food insecure people in my area.” So if your website is riddled with those types of phrases, you aren’t reaching the people who want to help you.

How You Can Reduce Jargon

No grant applications! Do NOT copy text from your grant application and use it in your supporter communications.  The language you use when applying for a grant is not the language you want to use when asking for help from supporters.

Re-read everything! Whether it’s internal communications or external, look for those phrases that make you pause and think too hard. Or have a friend read it and tell you what they don’t understand. And then take them out for dinner because they are a good friend for doing that.

Keep it simple! What are you really trying to say? Use the Flesch Reading Ease test on Word to see what grade level you are writing at. If it’s too high, chances are you have some technical jargon in your work.

Cut the glut! While not necessarily jargon, too many words can also cloud your message. Check out these posts on Wordy Phrases to Eliminate from Your Writing (And Alternatives) and Redundancies to Eliminate from Your Writing.

Remember to write for the people you want to read your work – not your boss or board.


What are some of the worst jargony phrases you’ve heard – or maybe even used yourself? Share in the comments so we can rid the world of it!



© 2007-2018, Nonprofit Marketing Guide. All Rights Reserved.

Author: Kristina Leroux, Community Engagement Manager

I am the Community Engagement Manager at Nonprofit Marketing Guide.com.

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