Do the words we use really matter?
Words that seem to be on the way out are “retention”, “acquisition”, and “donor”.
Words that our on the rise are “experience”, “engagement”, and “supporter”.
Take acquisition. To acquire donors suggests a sense of ownership. That doesn’t feel right anymore. And donor. People can now get involved in so many ways. Beneficiaries too. It seems so short sighted to box people (especially as someone who is involved in many ways is more likely to donate).
The wrong words can lead to a lack of change, or re-enforce an existing mindset you wish to change.
For some years all staff at SolarAid have been encouraged to use the word ‘supporter’ instead of ‘donor’. Each time you used ‘donor’ you could be called out. There was even an office forfeit of making tea for the team for been the worst offender for using “donor”. The thinking behind this was the recognition that people can support in many ways and donating is just one of them. To just think of them as donors felt short sighted.
Take retention. Retention is important, yet it perpetuates an approach where by the best measure is whether someone has given in say the last 12 or 24 months. Personally, I no longer believe that is what now matters. What now matters is are you interested in our cause and do I have your attention? Hence engagement is now relevant – providing you understand what it means. If you think how we use engagement, which can range from this toilet cubicle is occupied or I am betrothed to this sweet-heart, it means I am busy, occupied, or taken. That in turn helps you think what should we be measuring? If you are serious about engagement you need to measure how often is the audience you are “engaging” is busy, occupied, or taken with you (with thanks to Grant Leboff for the analogy and definition).
Understand the words you use
One place words quickly manifest themselves is in job titles.
Yet there is a danger we switch titles to use words without really knowing what we mean. It seems the thinking is if we change someones title from supporter care to supporter experience will we deliver a great supporter experience, if your title is relationship fundraiser it will automatically mean you practice relationship fundraising, or if we include in words like “engagement” or “partnerships” in a new job title that will do the trick in shifting our strategy.
It might help, but of course what really matters are the thoughts we have. If you change what you think and believe you will change what you do. Change what you do, then you change what you call yourself. It is easy to change words – the challenge is the change in thinking that should go before. How do you change your thinking? This comes down to understanding why change is needed and providing that belief. See this blog on courage.
Danielle Mensah, the Supporter Experience Administrator at SolarAid, has a remit to give people a great experience in supporting SolarAid whatever that takes, because the understanding is that if people get a great experience they may tell others, they are more likely to remember SolarAid, and possibly give again and more as a result. Hence multiple reasons to give that role the remit to deliver on the word “experience”.
Nicola Tallet, whose job title was the ‘Director of Fundraising’ at Oxfam GB, is in a new role called ‘Director of Engagement’. Nicola tells me it’s a “recognition that fundraising is a response to engagement with Oxfam, and needs to be done in collaboration with many other parts” – such as taking a campaign action, visit a shop, where you can donate of course, or buy a fundraising product such as a virtual gift. Her job is to ensure Oxfam GB engage supporters, and they understand if you do this well the support, including the money will come, and other parts of Oxfam GB have a role to play in delivering on fundraising objectives too. One to watch I think.
Danielle and Nicola both have an understanding of why their job title uses those words.
Words can help, but if there is nothing under pinning them, then it is too shallow. So do you really understand the words you use? If the understanding and thinking is there, then absolutely words will help re-enforce that thinking. Without it they are just shallow and are likely to play lip service.
Words count but its the thoughts that matter most.