Communication. A word that is so recognizable and easy to define, yet so hard to accomplish. Businesses close, marriages fail, and families are estranged every year due to communication issues. Surely we can do better.

I started working in healthcare philanthropy in 2013. Fast forward to 2020. I really enjoy the opportunity to help connect grateful patients with the mission of Estes Park Health, which enables the organization to increase capacity and serve the needs of the community. One of the things that I had to learn was the jargon. I have never seen so many consonants in a row before. Some words don’t even have vowels. I’m in my 5th year and am still the person in the room who has to interrupt and ask “what does that mean?” Fortunately my colleagues are very patient with me and I continue to learn new things – seemingly every day.

Over the years, I have come to recognize that one of the critical success factors to observe in healthcare philanthropy is donor intent. A patient often wants the department that impacted their care to be the recipient of their gift. It is critical that the gift officer and donor communicate effectively in order to honor donor intent. I originally learned the importance of the ‘listener understanding the message’ back in the late 70’s, growing up in California. At my house, we used to watch a show called “Sanford and Son.” As I was contemplating this article, I thought of the specific episode when the value of communication was made crystal clear. Here is a brief snippet:

As you can see from this clip, we can all be speaking English yet have no idea what the other person is saying. As a child, I participated in the “school busing” program, which sent kids from my neighborhood to schools on the other side of town, in the name of racial integration. Back then, I noticed that people from different sides of the proverbial tracks sometimes need translation, as their lived experiences are different. Perhaps you have experienced this.

As leaders in small organizations, it is critical that we get the whole “communication” piece right. We certainly cannot afford to alienate donors when they number in the hundreds rather than the ten thousands. One of the things that we must be careful of is “development speak.” I remember years ago when I asked a donor if she would be interested in meeting to discuss Communicationplanned giving. She said yes and I was so excited! Once we met, I determined that she was not actually interested in planned giving. The fact is she was planning to give us a check for $500. I appreciated the gift, but it was not what I expected. Your average donor isn’t necessarily familiar with some of the vernacular that we use and so it is important that we keep that in mind as we engage our supporters. There are other examples. How about ‘Sustainers?’ The first time I heard that term I thought we were talking about a rocket.

I am sure that if you think about it, you can come up with some other phrases that we use with donors, but need to cease. Put yours in the comments section below.

Have a great week and I hope that you are raising a lot of money during these uncertain times.


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