Building a New Lexicon Part 1: Fundraising

Published by Tony Elischer on

IFC seriesAt the IFC this week I will be presenting a completely new session on changing your mind-set, changing your words and changing the way you think about fundraising. A powerful set of challenges to begin the journey of rethinking what we do.

We train, we read, we study, we connect, we exchange, but is this enough? Are we truly seeking ways to transform our fundraising and to reengineer the DNA of fundraising as we know it today? With all the tools available to us I believe the most powerful is the one we focus on least, our mind-set. We’ve heard that once the mind is set, programmed or made up it is very hard to change; but I guess that is my challenge, to change your mind-set and the whole way you think about and view fundraising.

So where do we begin? Probably the simplest place is to challenge the language we use. We are conditioned by our training and as the sector adopts the key descriptors of our work it naturally becomes the norm and we are forced to conform. But if you think of the real meaning of the words we use and above all how other sectors use them, I believe we would want rapidly to liberate ourselves from them and invent a new language that is more suited to contemporary fundraising and practice.

To be controversial, let’s start with ‘fundraising’ itself, crazy to think we would or could ever change it, but frankly it is such an inadequate word in reflecting what we do. In fact it works against us at every level as ‘fund’ is the first element of the work, which can only be linked to money and the raising of finances. Anyone new to what we do, especially board members, will focus on money as it is the first thing they see in our title/descriptor. We have other words like giving, philanthropy, development and resource mobilisation but as we explore each of these I wonder if we can really get closer to an all-encompassing term for the work that we do.

We constantly see new ‘schools of fundraising’ emerging: such as, Impact Philanthropy, Social Innovation, Venture Philanthropy – all definitions of a supposedly different approach that recognises more the people or brain investment, the expectations of giving and perhaps a unique methodology or approach. Perhaps this is the solution, a range of descriptors that can be used by different programmes and approaches, moving away from a single word that really doesn’t reflect what we do in the complex modern world in which we operate.

As fundraising continues to get tougher, do we set out to ask for funds or do we set out to ‘interchange’ with people? Providing opportunities for them to express their values, to connect and genuinely to take action on something they believe in? Remember the strongest donor foundations are those built on shared values between a person and the mission/vision of an organisation. We all know that the more valuable supporters are always in control and it is our job to go with the flow and provide opportunities, insights, options, stories, reports and conversations that build and enrich their interest, knowledge and spirit. It takes a brave fundraiser (there goes another variation on that word!) to step back from the financial focus and to believe that other actions will ultimately build a stronger link with the donor and perhaps a longer-term view of their connection and investment with the charity and its mission.

Fundraising as a single word doesn’t reflect our role in sharing, translating, bridging, motivating and facilitating giving in all its manifestations. We need to be careful about this word in future; it will always be at the heart of my thinking and activities, but it needs a much wider frame of names and words to help other people truly understand what we do.

So ‘fundraising’ is just the doorway to the vocabulary that we absorb and carry around, the one that I believe slows us down and forms barriers to how we think about things professionally. Not only at the IFC but in the coming months I will be looking at each and every word we use to describe our activities and offering challenges and fresh outlooks to help reprogramme our brains and set us free!


Tony launches a new free resource for fundraisers today, a web site where you can find many of his papers, slides, pictures and general creative thoughts, check it out at www.tonyelischer.com

ifc2013 logoTony is the eighth and last IFC speaker to contribute to the IFC Series 2013.

Check out HERE where you can see Tony present at the IFC.

101fundraising is proud to once again be the blog partner of the International Fundraising Congress 2013!

Tony Elischer

Tony Elischer

Tony has over 30 years hands on experience in the not for profit sector. He has been a consultant for the last fourteen years working at the highest level across a wide range of causes and organisations and is the founder of the leading international consultancy THINK Consulting Solutions. He is an internationally regarded expert on fundraising and marketing, having extensive experience of helping charities worldwide with strategy, fundraising, management and troubleshooting. In the last 12 months he has worked in over 20 countries.


charlie hulme · October 14, 2013 at 15:29

Love it! Our rigid definitions straight jacket us and stop us real progress. Looking forward to your session

Jerilynbo · October 14, 2013 at 15:53

So looking forward to continuing this discussion.

Ele · October 16, 2013 at 16:07

Tony, gracias por este feedback. La inclusión del socio a los objetivos de una ong, más allá de su aporte monetario, que claramente es la ayuda más tangible que puede dar para continuar con el trabajo de muchos que creen, sienten y luchan por una causa justa y necesaria para la sociedad de hoy, hace que se sientan realmente involucrados con la visión de una ONG, esto permite que fidelización le permita conservar más socios, aumentar su ciclo de vida y su valor en la ong.
Si tienes ideas de como trabajar en iniciativas para llevar al cambio y obtener donantes más fuertes, por favor compártelas!!!

Richard Radcliffe · October 19, 2013 at 13:38

I agree we need a new language but what the heck is a lexicon? Having just come out of some really challenging focus groups it was interesting to hear so many donors saying “There is too much thanking” and “too much asking” . So can we now ban the words fundraising fundraiser thank you and please?
The alternatives to please and thank you are challenging. “Congratulations” on the difference you have made sounds a like a win on the lottery. “We would like to offer you the most amazing opportunity……..” Sounds like a cheap company trying to sell you something you don’t want. The word “imagine” is sadly overused, let’s introduce a smile “are you dying to make a difference , leave us a legacy” .etc etc views please

Arjun Karki · March 14, 2014 at 08:19

What ‘word’ we choose plays a great role on what we say! But overuse of the same word ‘irritate’ to everyone. So, we need to change the use of word along with the changing world and people’s interest.

Fundraisingwoche vom 14.-20.10.2013 | sozialmarketing.de - wir lieben Fundraising · October 21, 2013 at 18:02

[…] Building a New Lexicon Part 1: Fundraising 101Fundraising: 3 things to think about when recruiting fundraisers Fired Up: Major Donor Visits: […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *