November 26, 2018

Upgrading old nonprofit jargon

We know you want to pull your hair out every time someone uses nonprofit jargon. So, we decided to upgrade the old clichés.

3 min read

1. Get granular

It means to get to a level of details. But why stop at grains of stuff. I recommend going even further, based on the level of details desired: Get molecular, Get atomic, or Get subatomic. And if you want even more details, the ultimate level, based on String Theory, is “Get stringy.” E.g., “This is a good strategic plan, but we need to get subatomic. No, we need to get stringy.”

2. At the end of the day

At the end of the day, we all just want to punch anyone who says this. I really like a colleague (code name keneta)’s suggestion of “When all the rhubarb is harvested.” It sounds really nice and sophisticated. Try it. “I know we don’t always agree, but when all the rhubarb is harvested, we are each an amazing unicorn who makes the world better.”

Related article: Decoding development jargon

3. Take it with a grain of salt

Look, a single grain of salt is not going to do anything, OK? One grain of salt is completely useless, trust me (Worst margarita ever). I propose we replace it with “Take it with a swig of Pepto.” That pink stuff is magical, calming down any stomach ailment, and also makes a pretty good drink mixer (Consult with your doctor or bartender first). So taking a swig of it along with something you’re not sure about makes sense. “I’ve never planned a puppet-show on equity before, so take my advice with a swig of Pepto.”

4. Buckets

I am so sick of buckets, especially when it’s used in finance, like “So our revenues can be divided into five buckets: Restricted, temporarily restricted, permanently restricted, unrestricted, and useless broken office supplies that we can’t throw away because we’re a nonprofit and so we hoard stuff.” Let’s replace it with tote bags. Tote bags are everywhere and are actually useful (except when we forget to take it to the grocery store, which is every time). “Our programs fall into three tote bags, as you see detailed on Slide 5. Which reminds me, we still have 1200 tote bags from the 1998 resource fair…”

5. Piggyback

I’ve been hearing this more, like “I’d like to piggyback on that idea.” We are professionals. No one should be piggybacking on anything. And who rides on pigs anyways? That’s a great way to annoy our porcine friends. Colleague Alisha Johnson recommends a much better replacement: “That was a great suggestion, and I would like to pull out a lawn chair next to it and add…”

non profit humour

GIF courtesy: Giphy

6. Robust

“We need a more robust revenue model.” Ugh. Let’s replace this with something that is actually robust: Hodor. He’s a beloved character from Game of Thrones. He’s a big, sweet guy, and all he says is ‘Hodor.’ “We need a more hodor revenue model.”

7. Circle back.

Says a colleague, “Every time I hear someone say ‘I’ll circle back with you on this,’ I want to jam knitting needles into my ears.” Let’s prevent this sort of self-inflicted violence by replacing this cliché with “stir the risotto.” Risotto takes a lot of stirring; you have to come back to it constantly. “Hey, I’d like to stir the risotto on the conversation we had about that puppet-show on equity.”

Related article: Jargon-ing your way through life

8. Take it to the next level

We have a very height-biased society that values things that are physically higher than other things. Why should the next level be more valued just because it’s higher? This needs to stop. I recommend “drive it to the next truck stop,” which recalls a horrifying bathroom I encountered on a road trip once. It was basically the 7th level of hell. We drove to the next truck stop. “OK, I know I just joined the team as the Development Director. But I want to drive our gala to the next truck stop. Staff/board musical numbers!” (If you don’t like that, colleague NextDoorInc recommends “Toss it to the next pterodactyl,” which is also great).

9. Pain point

I shudder whenever I hear this, and I’ve been hearing it more, especially from tech people. “What are the pain points we’re trying to address by switching to a new donor database?” Shudder…Let’s use “Kidney stones” instead, because those are definitely painful. “The new database will take care of three kidney stones: Access, geographic stratification, and filtering major donors by yacht ownership.”

10. Take-aways

“Before this training end, let’s go around the room and share three take-aways.” Always makes me hungry, because it reminds me of take-out food. Colleague Ethan Myerson has a great suggestion: “If my kids behave at the dentist’s office, the hygienist gives them a token to put into the machine and get a bouncy ball. So I propose ‘Bouncy Ball.’” “OK, so the puppet-show on equity is a great idea, but what is the bouncy ball we want to leave the audience with?”

Read the complete list on NonprofitAF here.

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Vu Le Profile
Vu Le

Vu Le (“voo lay”) is a writer, speaker, vegan, Pisces, and Executive Director, Rainier Valley Corps, a nonprofit in Seattle that promotes social justice by developing leaders of colour, strengthening organisations led by communities of color, and fostering collaboration between diverse communities. Check out his other posts at Nonprofit AF.