How do you describe what you do?
Over the past several years I’ve become a fan of words; how we use them and what they mean. This interest was ignited as I listened to a photographer speak about the way people typically describe how he works. What particularly resonated with me was his discussion about the undertones or implied meaning of words and phrases.
- Shoot a picture has a rather violent connotation.
- Take a picture can imply something is not given willingly.
- Capture images conjurers thoughts of a competition.
“What if,” he suggested, “we said ‘Make a picture?’” It was a passing conversation but the concept has remained with me.
Recently while making some photographs of my own, I started thinking about the words we use in philanthropic conversations.
How often do we describe what we do as “giving” or “making” a grant? Do those terms reinforce a power dynamic between donor and recipient? A hierarchy where we as donors have something the potential grantee wants? We have. They want. We have the power. They have the need. It makes me think of the scene in Oliver Twist:
Oliver Twist: Please sir, I want some more.
Mr. Bumble: [thinking he must not have heard right] What?
Oliver Twist: Please sir, I want some…
Oliver Twist: More?
Mr. Bumble: [surprised beyond belief] More?
Do you think those looking for our partnerships ever feel like poor Oliver? Does that foster an environment postured for success?
What if instead of making a grant, we talked about entering a partnership?
As a foundation trustee, how good would it feel to say, “We partnered with nonprofit organization “x” to help improve conditions around issue “y”? After all, isn’t that what we are doing? Or should be?
We endeavor to work cooperatively with nonprofit organizations to address a need we both perceive as important. Each party brings different strengths and abilities to the table. As philanthropists we bring money, no question, but don’t we also bring interest, knowledge, and excitement? The nonprofit brings expertise in an area and hopefully systems, people, and programs to address the issue. What we both bring – or should – is a shared passion for the cause at hand.
Do you send the right message with your words? What words do you use?
- Make a grant
- Partner with
- Invest in
I have started the list but what would you add? Leave a comment and let us know.
Henry Berman became Exponent Philanthropy’s CEO in 2011, previously serving as acting CEO, board member, and committee member. Through his experience as a foundation co-trustee and Exponent Philanthropy member since 2003, he brings a firsthand understanding of the needs of members to his role.