Words have power. Social sector organizations use them to compel philanthropists to donate, promote volunteerism, encourage advocacy, and differentiate themselves from other organizations. Our team has identified some subtle, yet important, word shifts in the social sector – here is our perspective on how and why the shift has occurred:
- Vision vs. Mission: Within strategic planning, there is more focus on vision versus mission. Vision is a picture of the ideal future and often gives shape to the organization’s direction. Mission is the reason for the organization’s existence. We have found two reasons for this shift. First, donors are more compelled by vision statements (e.g. all children should have access to quality after-school programs). Second, collective action and impact is on the rise and the starting point for collaboration is reaching agreement on a shared vision.
- Customer vs. Client: One key trend is finding better words to describe “a recipient of services” than the word “client.” We prefer “neighbor,” “customer,” or even “partner.” What do all these words have in common? They communicate a two-way relationship versus a one-way transaction. To solve social issues, our customers have to be part of the solution and the words we use to describe them are a good foundation.
- Investment vs. Donation: Now that entrepreneurs have donated not only their money, but also their time and energy to social issues, their words have seeped into the social sector’s vocabulary. Many social sector organizations are responding to this shift and switching from donation to investment, thereby showcasing their ability to create longer-term results.
We welcome your feedback on these or other word shifts.
Just a thought about “client vs. customer” . . . many of the social enterprises I’ve encountered recently have replaced “client” with the phrase “the people we serve” . . . which is reminiscent of John DuRand’s constant emphasis on placing the “people” ahead of the particular disability or disadvantage (e.g., “we work with people who are developmentally disabled” rather than “we work with the developmentally disabled”) — he always wanted the emphasis to be on the fact that we were dealing with “people,” not with a disease, a disability or a disadvantage . . . as time passed, he (and I) also began frequently using the phrase “individuals with . . . ” rather than “people with . . . “