Charity and the language we use…

Just came across this piece from RSM – and thought it a good piece to share, it’s worth the read.

What’s in a word or a phrase?  Well sometimes a lot.  Whether we appreciate it or not much of the language we use carries considerable extra weight and meaning due to history, perceptions, and baggage connected with it.

I was fortunate a while back to attend a seminar by Vicki Sykes on the topic of Business acquisition in the community sector in New Zealand.  Vicki is an interesting speaker and after 17 years as a CEO of a South Auckland charity she followed her passion to step back and do a University thesis on the topic of her presentation.

One of the quotes that Vicki used (and forgive me for not knowing to whom this should be attributed) was:

“Remember that being a charity is a tax status; not a business model.”

That line struck me as powerful.  One because of its simplicity.  But perhaps more so due to it making me question my use of the word charity.  There are so many assumptions we attach to a word.  These are built up over time and become unquestioned.  But when we sit back and consider them, sometimes we see that maybe these assumptions and perceptions we attach to a word can hold us back.

When I ask others, especially businesspeople, about the word charity as it relates to organisations, there seems to be a common understanding that this is an organisation that does good.  People understand that they exist to serve some social or community benefit.  The word charity is also associated with giving without expecting anything in return.  A very noble attribute.

Yet these understandings or assumptions about the word charity when considering a charitable organisation also seem to blinker some people in their attitudes towards the organisation and how it operates.

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What are your thoughts?


On my way back from Christchurch to Auckland recently I got to talking to a couple seated next to me on the plane. They were intrigued by the book I was reading – Chapter One – we ended up have a good conversation about charity giving and the orgnisations they support.

So, seeing this from Greg Warner at Market Smart, is timely, and it covers exactly what the couple and I were talking about.


  1. “What did they do with my money?”
  2. “Would my money yield more impact if I gave it to another organization?”
  3. “Do they make me feel good or bad?”


They said that they often feel some level of concern after making a contribution, mainly around whether the money they have given is going to the right organisation and that it will be used wisely and for the purposes the organisation said they needed support.

Do your donors have confidence in how you are using the support they are giving you, how do you allay any concerns they may have?

Arrogant and Ignorant

I’ve heard about some, have even met some, so this from Veritus Group is timely … 

Most often Jeff and I work with enlightened, progressive, and donor-centered leaders. And then, every once in a while, one shows up that just takes our breath away.

That was my experience recently when I was meeting with a CEO who was considering using Veritus Group in his major gift program. At least that is what I thought.

His Director of Development (DOD) was a very experienced gentleman who had worked for several national non-profits. This DOD knew his stuff. He also knew that he needed help in major gifts – that is why he had set up the meeting. Things were not going well, and the numbers showed it.

Our meeting lasted a total of six minutes, all of which were occupied with a monologue from this CEO about why our help was not needed, why the DOD was wasting his time with this meeting, and didn’t the DOD know that all he had to do was ask for money – and why wasn’t he doing more of it?

I obviously did not get a word in edgewise, nor a point of view. This guy knew it all, so there was no reason for me to tell him what I thought. Actually, let me correct what I just said. I did manage to tell him that he was losing millions of dollars in donors that were either going away or giving less. I showed him the facts. He brushed those details aside and kept talking.

It was not surprising to me that, weeks after our meeting, the DOD resigned and took another position with a well-known non-profit.

Here is why I am telling you this story.

It doesn’t matter if you are a MGO, a DOD, or any staff member working in a non-profit – if you are in a place where a leader behaves in this way (ignores best practice, does not take counsel, shames his employees in public, etc.) – if you are in this kind of place, you must get out. This is not the place for you.

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