Nonprofit Lingo: What It All Means!

We took to Twitter to find out which phrases irk the nonprofit community. The following list is inspired by the comments we received and our own experience working with the nonprofit industry.

Are you guilty of any of the phrases below? Check out what each one means and learn simple, more specific alternatives you can use in your day-to-day.

Overused at the Office

1. Deep Dive

What it means: Professionals commonly use this as both a verb and a noun. It can mean to explore a topic in greater detail, or it can refer to an exploration of a topic.

Used in a sentence: “Fred and I did a deep dive on our donor retention numbers.”


  • Let’s look into this
  • An in-depth discussion
  • Extensive research

2. Bandwidth

What it means: The available resources for a project.

Used in a sentence: “I’m not sure we have the bandwidth to take on a monthly newsletter.”


  • Staff
  • Time
  • Technology

3. Soft Ask



Is there any jargon that you can’t stand or really love? Let us know for a chance to be featured on the blog by @Burke_Writes

Lynne Wester@donorguru

hate”soft ask” there is NO such thing!

See Lynne Wester’s other Tweets

What it means: To appeal for a donation or desired action in a way that is less direct or forward.

In a sentence: “Make sure subscriber welcome emails include a soft ask, Arthur.”


  • Call to action
  • Ask

4. Donor Pipeline


ATTN world! I’m writing a @Classy blog on industry jargon. What phrases do you hate? Any you think work well? Send em on over!

Ria Evko@RiaEvko

not a fan of hearing “donor pipeline” in meetings

See Ria Evko’s other Tweets

What it means: Your community of prospective donors, all at different stages in the process to become a donor.

In a sentence: “George, we need to further cultivate website visitors in our donor pipeline.”


  • Contact list
  • Potential supporters
  • Prospects

5. Innovation


@mktgmacgyver Hi Cindy! I’m writing a post on jargon. I’d love to know if there are any terms you dislike or think work well.

Cindy Jones-Nyland@mktgmacgyver

dislike: innovation (for innovation sake) disruption (for disruption sake) work well: connectedness & intellectual generosity

See Cindy Jones-Nyland’s other Tweets

What it means: New products, processes, or ways of thinking and/or execution.

In a sentence: “According to Charlie, innovation will help our nonprofit grow and succeed.”


  • New ideas
  • Creative thinking
  • Incremental changes

6. Disruption

What it means: The act of uprooting current methods and replacing them with new ways of thinking or execution. While it tends to have a negative connotation, the tech space likens the concept to innovation and progress.

In a sentence: “Digital disruption has changed the fundraising game and brought it online.”


  • Challenging the market
  • Making a left turn

7. Missed Opportunity

What it means: A project, strategy, or initiative of some kind that would have been fruitful to act on, often revealed in hindsight.

In a sentence: “Ron, I think the failure to live-tweet the seminar was a missed opportunity to reach audiences.”


  • Something we should learn from
  • A key learning
  • An opportunity to try next time

8. Thought Leader

What it means: A person or organization that actively speaks on a certain topic and whose opinion has influence in that space.

In a sentence: “Molly Prewett is considered a thought leader in the human rights sector for her activism and work as a public figure.”


  • Influencer
  • Reputable source
  • Pioneer

9. Move the Needle


@HyeSookChung Hi! I’m writing a piece on jargon. I’d love to know if there are any terms that you can’t stand or think work well!

See HyeSook Chung’s other Tweets

What it means: To incrementally make progress toward a goal.

In a sentence: “Each of us has the ability to move the needle on saving endangered species.”


  • Make progress
  • Make a difference

10. Silo

What it means: When groups or individuals work in isolation from others.

In a sentence: “If our departments didn’t work in silos, I would’ve known Audrey was emailing a program update to our donors the same day I sent them an appeal.”


  • Separation
  • Isolation

11. Viral

What it means: For something to spread like a virus—quick and widespread.

In a sentence: “Bill wants our video to go viral and get millions of views.”


  • Widespread
  • Quickly circulated
  • Heavily shared

12. Take This Offline

What it means: To address a topic at a later time, or to talk about something with a coworker in person. It could also mean to communicate through any means not using the internet.

In a sentence: “Good points about volunteer training, Mark, but let’s take this offline and finish up our plans for the new office space.”


  • Talk about this later
  • Come back to this later


  • Meet in person
  • Talk on the phone

13. Pick Your Brain

What it means: To chat with and get insight from someone more knowledgeable on a particular topic.

In a sentence: “Percy, I’d like to pick your brain on new ways we might segment our communications.”


  • Get your thoughts on
  • Ask you a few questions
  • Hear more about

14. Granular

What it means: To speak about things at the highest level of detail.

In a sentence: “I’m not going to get granular on this, because I think we should move on and review our annual report.”


  • Talk details
  • Nitty-gritty
  • Focus too much

15. Piggyback

What it means: To build off of another’s thought or idea with your own.

In a sentence: “To piggyback off of Rose’s comment about the CTR on the December event reminders, I think we should tweak the copy to sound more casual.”


  • Push that idea further
  • Add a thought
  • Continue that idea
  • I agree, and think…

16. Circle Back

What it means: To return to a topic at a later time.

In a sentence: “I’ll circle back with you about the silent auction donations after my meeting.”


  • Get back to you
  • Check in
  • Follow up
  • Talk to you again soon

Overused in External Communications

17. Impact


ATTN world! I’m writing a @Classy blog on industry jargon. What phrases do you hate? Any you think work well? Send em on over!

Jess O’Leary@JessOLeary119

Not sure if this qualifies (and I’m not in non-profit anymore) but I hate impact/impactful/making a difference.

See Jess O’Leary’s other Tweets

What it means: The positive results your organization has on the world.

In a sentence: “We’re thrilled to announce we’ve hired a new director to increase our impact transparency.”


18. ‘Tis the Season



Is there any jargon that you can’t stand or really love? Let us know for a chance to be featured on the blog by @Burke_Writes

Susannah – SXSW EDU 2020 Panel Moderator@greatergoodgeek

All: Please stop using “’tis the season” in fundraising campaigns.
Using this hackneyed phrase telegraphs laziness.

See Susannah – SXSW EDU 2020 Panel Moderator’s other Tweets

What it means: The time of year for year-end giving and holiday activities.

In a sentence: “‘Tis the season to pay it forward—donate to the Devon Bird Sanctuary!”


  • It’s a great time
  • Now, more than ever

19. Donor


I actually don’t like “donor.” It feels impersonal and in health care, where I work, could mean something really different to our audience. 



Is there any #nonprofit jargon that you can’t stand or really love? Let us know for a chance to be featured on the blog by @Burke_Writes

See Christina’s other Tweets

What it means: An individual or entity that contributes to a philanthropic cause.

In a sentence: “We’d like to thank our recurring donors for their continued support.” 


  • Supporters
  • Friends
  • Community members

20. PoC


@norman_hering @kaleighsheard Would love to hear if there is any nonprofit jargon that you just can’t stand or that you think works well!

Dr. Norman Hering@norman_hering

PoC is an awful term for refugees!

See Dr. Norman Hering’s other Tweets


Dr. Norman Hering@norman_hering

PoC is an awful term for refugees!

A Human Crisis@A_Human_Crisis

.@norman_hering @Burke_Writes @kaleighsheard PoC is an awful term for human beings!

See A Human Crisis’s other Tweets

What it means: Person of Concern, or a refugee or displaced or stateless person.

In a sentence: “We are currently working to get more information about evacuation routes for Persons of Concern.”


  • Refugees
  • Displaced people
  • Affected individuals

21. Underserved

What it means: Disadvantaged populations. An example could be a population that does not have access to healthcare.

In a sentence: “The people of Little Whinging are, medically, the most underserved population in our country.”


  • Ill-supported
  • In need of support
  • In need of access

22. Cutting Edge


@HelpMeSee I’m writing a post on jargon. I’d love to know if there are any terms you can’t stand or any that you think work well!


Since we provide surgeries – “cutting edge”. Not a good reference!

See HelpMeSee’s other Tweets

What it means: The latest or greatest method, product, or idea.

In a sentence: “Using cutting edge technology, we inform nomadic farmers where the best fields for grazing are.”


  • New
  • Leading
  • Advanced
  • Groundbreaking


Whenever possible, try to clarify and simplify the language you use in the office and with your larger community. If we take an extra moment to debunk our hot, go-to terms, we stand a better chance at communicating effectively.

Other resources:

Published On: August 31st, 2022 / Categories: Uncategorised /

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