Language shapes more than thought
My partner Robyn Faucy and I presented a workshop at the annual conference of the Florida Philanthropic Network last Friday and the conversation with some 25 foundations proved insightful for us. Three musings stand out, all with the theme of the words we choose in philanthropy.
- The front and the back end. We made our usual Results1st distinction: Funders of programs spend most of their time at the front-end rating proposals and selecting nonprofits to receive money. Investors in results reserve considerable time at the back end to look at just what was achieved when their money is gone. Our insight is to reverse the words—or rather their meaning. . The early work is actually the back end. It fixes the floor, not only with applications and a review process but the frame of vision, mission, beliefs. When the program supported is complete, we are actually at a starting point. We have to decide what to do next. Do we give a group more program support? General operating support? Help them get stronger? Disinvest? These questions are about the future, not the past.
- Impact Sustainability. A participant put this on the list of challenges we requested at the start of the session. My immediate thought was of word choice. Don’t we use sustainability as a concern for programs and the organizations supporting them? Then my “aha” moment: sustainability of a result after the program ends is the most important use of that word! Thank you, participant! Sustainability is not about us. It is about participants and their motivation and support to keep the gains they made.
- Capacity. In Results1st we speak of going beyond knowing how to do something to doing it. This applies to foundations seeking to “build capacity.” What happens if no one uses the new capability, or it turns out not to be connected to participant achievement? We shared our term, achievement building, which seemed to resonate with foundations present. They are investing to increase the accomplishments and want to know just what will be different in nonprofit efficiency or effectiveness once a new capability is in place.