Nonprofit Lexicon

Purpose: to help those new to nonprofits understand what the heck everyone is saying and to give seasoned do-gooders some new terms to throw into their messaging  mix.

Have a word add to the Nonprofit Lexicon? Send it our way!



Acquisition–getting a new donor, supporter, volunteer, fan.

Advocacy–influencing the outcomes affecting the lives of those served by your organization.

Awareness—the measure of how much people know your organization or cause.

Brand— the narrative, visual and experiential rendering of your core values and mission, including (but not in any way limited to) your logo, slogan, mission statement, or service delivery.

CTA–Call to Action, i.e. what you are asking someone to do, e.g. donate, volunteer, advocate, ‘like’

Campaign—a series time-bound messages and activities focused on a specific outcome.

Cause—a core belief and motivation, greater than any individual organization.

Channels— lines of communication used to deliver messaging, e.g. print, Twitter, website, email newsletters.

Demographics—groups of people from specific socio-economic backgrounds and locations used to research effective marketing.

Differentiation—distinguishing an organization as unique from other organizations.

Donors— individuals who voluntarily give resources or money to an organization.

ED—short for executive director. (Note: Turns out non profits use this a little differently than others. Mind you don’t make someone believe the person in question has issues “performing” that require a little, blue pill.)

Funders–institutional donors, e.g. foundations and corporation.

Fundraising—the act of raising contributions and resources to further and fulfill an organization’s mission.

LOI–stands for Letter of Intent. This is short preview you submit, usually to foundations, in the hopes of being invited to submit a full proposal.

Marketing—the words, ways, and activities you use to inspire action and engagement.

Marketing Plan—an organization’s strategy or set of processes created to identify and engage an organizations key stakeholders.

Messaging—a combination of words that compelling describe what you do, how you do it, and (ideally) why you do it.

Mind share—how people think of your organization.

Mission—what you do and how you do it.

NPO–non profit organization, sometimes also shortened to simply ‘np’.

Narrative—the sequence of events leading to an event, i.e., how an organization came about and is fulfilling its mission. Used in storytelling to build empathy.

Non profit–an organization filed as a 501(c) with the IRS that uses funds to achieve goals that make the world a better place.

Persona—fictional characters that an organization develops to represent key stakeholders in order to fine-tune their marketing. (Here’s an example.)

Retention–keeping donors, supporters, volunteers, fans happy enough that they stay engaged with you. (Note: retention is cheaper than acquisition.)

ROI–generally stands for Return on Investment, although some encourage us to think of it as Return on Inspiration.

Rebranding—the act of changing how a public perceives an organization whether it’s through changing a logo, tagline or mission statement, etc.

Renaming—the act of changing the name or title of an organization.

Social Media—a group of internet-based applications that allow users to generate content and to have online conversations with other users. Examples include FaceBook and Twitter.

Storytelling—the act of conveying an organization’s mission, cause, background, etc. that creates a memorable bond with the public.

Strategy—an organization’s plan of action for marketing.

Tagline—a memorable, short one-liner that helps define what your organization does and, ideally, what you stand for. Taglines are read, not said.

Viral—as in “if we make a video, it’ll go viral”.  As in lots of people will see it, love it and pass it along.

Voice—the style an organization uses to deliver its message through word choice, vocal intonation (otherwise known as paralanguage), syntax and other tools, e.g., lighthearted, ominous, hopeful, somber.


Belief Proposition–a sentence that clearly answers the questions ‘why do we exist?’ and ‘what would be different if we didn’t exist?’ (Watch this short video to learn all about it–all the cool kids have one!)

Content Curation–finding and sharing the nuggets of info that will be most interesting/useful/valuable to your people. Here’s Content Creation 101 from Beth Kanter.

Do-Gooder–someone who can’t help but make the world a better place. (This would be you!)

Funective–a word Erica created. Fun+Effective=Funective. Who doesn’t want that?!

Mantra–a very short (2-3 word) motto or slogan that distills your purpose and guides your actions. For Internal Use.

Maximizer–a person or organization that maximizes impact to make the world a better place.

Transmedia–multiplatform storytelling. This is basically how we’re all telling stories now–on our website and Facebook and Pinterest. Now you know the fancy term for it. 

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?