Buzzwords: Choose What to Use

marketing techniques

Nonprofiteers know the buzzwords that easily roll off the tongues of employees, employers, and the board of directors. Has this jargon and lingo turned listeners into Pavlovian dogs? Don’t they produce an instant and very specific response to the nonprofit buzzwords?

So, what are these powerful words that buzz on the pulse of the nonprofit sector? During my nonprofit days, the word “community-driven” was an important one, as every action we took was supposedly for, about, with, and within the “community.” Without a doubt, “community” is a wholesome word that makes you feel solid and sure about the work you are doing. However, after four years of its use in meetings, I started to wonder if the word was entirely accurate every time it was uttered or if it was just public speaking rhetoric intended to rev the staff into action.

According to, other nonprofit buzzwords include “participatory action,” “anti-oppression,” and “collaboration.” A nonprofiteer can list more, such as “stakeholders,” “opportunity,” “win-win,” and the oldie but goodie “go the extra mile.” These words and phrases imply “taking a stand” - that your efforts are active and people-inclusive. All of these fancy words development directors would most likely include in grant proposals to impress funders and to raise money for their nonprofit organizations.

This line of thinking leads to a closer look at “nonprofit.” Of course, “nonprofit” has legal implications, but the actual structure of the word is fascinating. On its own, “nonprofit” seems negative, sans profit. Logically, you might wonder what organization in the United States strives for no profit. However, the underlined meaning of the word suggests a positive motive, a “profit” for the soul. Can the non-monetary part be reconciled with the “profit” for the soul portion?

As with any word, it is important to know your audience and how to sell it. The various meanings associated with words have to do with the users of the lingo. For example, Star Trek fans have Klingon. Everyone in the Trekkie world gets the language and understands the fun. Users have created their own personal congregation that spans across the world.

People outside this group might think the language is a bit offbeat. In the nonprofit sector, the same holds true with buzzwords, for the upbeat words can build “community” and motivate the busy staff. Unlike the static world of Star Trek, though, the real world of nonprofits is ever evolving.

Employers have to make sure the staff is on board with the selected vocabulary. Words that once worked may no longer have potency. They may have been misused, overused, or abused. If employees buzz to the words like bees to honey, then the nonprofit is golden. If they roll their eyes and yell, “Buzz off!,” then perhaps it is best to reconsider and reexamine the buzzwords. In all seriousness, if The Oxford English Dictionary can alter the meanings of words, such as “literally,” after centuries of use to accommodate the masses, then so can the nonprofit world.

You can peruse your favorite buzzwords and let your co-workers know how you really feel about the words with the following websites:

Buzzword Bingo

Harvard Business Review’s Biz-Speak Blacklist

Jen Schaupp Pic

About the Author: Jennifer likes to talk, write, and improvise her way out of any situation. She enjoys creating and collaborating with other like-minded outside-the-box thinkers. Jennifer writes for social media, PR, blogs, as well as plays for production, including the newly developed Pittsburgh Fringe Festival. She is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh.