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Google translator will not work on this-Understanding the Language of everyone in your Organization.

Updated: Mar 31


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I spent several years working for organizations based in Miami - and was frequently reminded of the value of being bilingual within that community. Donors, other staff, alumni, restaurant servers, and corporate partners were often more comfortable communicating in their first language - and I often found myself struggling to catch up and/or to remain a critical player in the conversation. Being monolingual left me at a disadvantage in terms of meeting content - it also positioned me as an outsider and limited my ability to build relationships.


The French I learned in high school was rarely helpful in Miami.


But I don’t consider myself to be hopelessly monolingual in business settings - there is a trio of languages that I learned to jump between early in my career; conversational fluency in these languages is key to workplace relationships, collaborative goal setting, and shared celebration of successes.


The languages spoken by Programming, Finance, and Development personnel (volunteers and staff) are different!


  1. Programming - This language is naturally focused on outcomes and impact. Depending on the organization there may be focus on the number of people served. On the money front, there is often a focus by program staff members on hard costs (how much will each textbook cost?). Focus tends to be by budget cycle… as that is how (short term) impact will be evaluated.


Development - The Donor Cultivation Cycle does not neatly follow a budget calendar. Additionally, multi-year gifts can be confusing in all three of these languages. Development staff may look at project budgets that span many fiscal years. Language tends to differentiate between restricted and unrestricted gifts and may focus on a donor’s total engagement rather than a single gift.


Finance - This language will usually be based on the fiscal year and always be governed by the rules of accounting. The biggest difference between Finance and Development is around the “counting” of gifts. Development will want to count the entirety of a multi-year pledge in year 1, and FInance will agree to count any initial cash along with the remaining pledge. In year 2 however … the revenue will not count again (in either language). Explaining the allocation of corresponding expenses (see Programming above) is often an area of confusion.

And of course we can never forget the language of stewardship.


This is the language we speak to donors … those who (really) don’t care who gets credit, when the dollars appear on your balance sheet, or what the finance department will do with their multi-year pledge.


Here’s an example of how this language stuff sometimes gets in the way of our work (all of our work):


A donor wants to help fund your mission. They write a check for $10,000 in response to your gala invitation but state that they won’t be able to attend.


Your Event Chair - “When we created the budget we thought that we’d have to settle for music that was streamed from our phones - now we can hire a great band!”


Your Finance Team - “Great, we can book that money now as an Individual contribution.”


Programming - “Do you think that donor would also like to purchase new supplies for us?”


Development -”How can we thank this donor for having an impact on our work? How do we encourage future engagement? How do we make sure they stay on our invite list for next year? And yay… we’re $10,000 closer to the unreasonable revenue goal that we all set for this event!”


  • Make sure you understand the goals of each department. This helps you give thoughtful answers to the above queries.

  • Be prepared for these conversations.

  • Be clear on YOUR plan and how all these opportunities fall into place. This way you have a plan to refer back to when these inevitable conversations come up.



Need to work through these and other concerns, reach out to Team Kat & Mouse. We are nonprofit consultants committed to making 2022 your best year ever.


For information on Team Kat & Mouse or to read our other blogs…visit our website today!

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