Is it time to foment a language revolution?

Years ago when I managed our Phonathon program, our calling software presented student callers with “prospect” records. We used scripts, but I encouraged our more experienced callers to regard them as guides only. For the rest I said, “Please, if you go off-script, do not ever say the word ‘prospect’ during a conversation!”

Whatever the giving level, there’s an external and an internal language, and it’s about time we brought them together. Because the internal language is making us feel like liars when we communicate about what matters.

Acquisition, prospect, moves management … There will always be shop talk and lingo which of course we keep separate from how we communicate with supporters. There’s an economy of language at play: “Prospect” can be shorthand for “prospective donor,” which is inoffensive.

But I worry that the terms we use create a divide in the mind of a frontline staff member who is most effective when bringing their genuine self to the conversation but carries in the back of their mind an entirely different understanding of what the objective is – based on the language of the profession, reinforced by operational processes. The cognitive dissonance is a hindrance.

How can we expect frontline staff to believe in what they talk about with donors if in the back of their mind they are under the influence of some alien calculus?

As an Operations leader I feel our processes and systems – including the calling software I trained callers on a decade ago – are perpetuating an unhelpful mental divide. What if we used the same language internally as we do with our supporters?

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