716.651.0465 | Airport Commerce Park | 303 Cayuga Rd., Suite 180 | Cheektowaga, NY 14225

The "Real" Meaning Behind Common Nonprofit Terms and Concepts

Here is a dictionary of sorts that explains the singular language of the nonprofit world.


Salary commensurate with experience: We're ashamed to actually say what it is, but it's probably nowhere near commensurate with your experience level

Comprehensive benefits: You can take home leftover crackers AND half-drunk bottles of wine after donor receptions.

Welcomes diversity/seeks diverse leadership: You will be the first and/or only person of color on our board/staff/whatever

A dynamic work environment: We are really disorganized

Able to prioritize: You'll have to decide whether it's riskier to delay payment on the electric bill or the water bill

There were so many duties we decided to split the job: Your predecessor still works here, but is angry she was demoted, and won't train you

We are embarking on a new phase: Everything else we've tried has been an epic failure, and you will now save us.

A fast-paced environment: We are overwhelmed, overworked and afflicted with this curse called a 'vocation', and the Board just keep piling it on.

Looking for someone passionate about the field: Applicants should be willing to accept being paid peanuts

Lots of opportunity: It literally could not get any worse.

Looking for a self-directed individual: We don't have enough staff to pull off this plan, so you'll be on your own to get the stuff done we hire you for

Out of pocket expenses incurred will be reimbursed: We really have no approved budget line item for parking, mileage, postage, or approved meeting meals....

Fast-paced, multi-tasker: We have too much work and not enough staff. Be prepared to do everything yesterday.

And other duties as requested: There is no janitor, you'll be taking out your own trash. We received a capital grant for new carpeting and you need to move furniture. Can you make cookies for the board? Oh, are you done with that grant yet?

Flexible: You will need to change your own toilet paper rolls. Or bring your own toilet paper. Or donate toilet paper. Or bring your own toilet. Or go home to use the toilet. We often run out of toilet paper before the next supply run.

Likes to wear many hats: This is actually 3 positions, but we only have budget for one, and you'll likely have to do strange things you may not be qualified to do

Exciting: Terrifyingly out of control

We are in an exciting period of transition: You won't believe the frequency of turnover, and job descriptions change monthly, or our executive director was just indicted for both embezzling AND harassment!

Must be proficient in Microsoft Office: We have people who aren't proficient in Microsoft Office on staff

Computer skills required: You are now the IT department

Must be a self-starter: Expect zero training, support, or real buy-in from the organization on your project. And you must be able to raise your own salary.

Some evening and weekend work required: You're attending all the committees and doing snack runs all the time.

We value professional development: We expect you to perform your usual work while staying on top of trends by attending relevant trainings, workshops, and conferences but there is actually no budget for said activities. And don't plan to do that stuff on the clock.

Intricate set of group dynamics: There are pain-in-the-butt people you have to work with who refuse to learn a better way to work smarter

Collaborative working environment: We have meetings every minute of every day

Team player: Never get credit for your work

Open concept office: We can't afford more space than this one room and you will need to go to a nearby Starbucks for private meetings

This is a polite culture: Everyone here is passive aggressive

Good sense of humor: Understand that "boys will be boys," and someone is going to cover your desk with aluminum foil at some point

Flexible work schedule: You may work whatever hours you like, as long as they add up to 60 hours per week

Work Culture

Breaking down silos:  Occasionally, people from different departments sit across from each other and see who'll break first.

Leadership opportunity: A challenging project we are going to talk you into doing (without you realizing it) that is in addition to and mostly unrelated to your actual job responsibilities

We transitioned him/her to a new role: We don't have the balls to fire anyone, ever

Can you help me with some numbers for this grant report?: If you don't drop everything right now and invent numbers for tracking you never did, we will have to close down.

So-and-so is a visionary leader: So-and-so sucks at details and drops the ball a lot

Can I give you some feedback?: You really screwed up

Let's circle back: Shut up you guys and focus!

Conference call: 1 person speaking, everyone else on mute doing other work/checking Facebook

Let's put that idea in the parking lot: That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard

Org Capacity

Strategic planning: We're gonna make some stuff up about how the next 5-10 years are going to shake down. Then, we're going to do something totally different within 6 months of the plan.

Strategic plan: A really expensive binder on a shelf that can occasionally be used as a doorstop

Innovative evaluation: Survey monkey responses

Logic Model: Our work distilled into a one-page chart using 3-point font for Type-A individuals

Big picture thinking: Avoiding work that actually needs to be done, like picking up the phone to call donors.

Rebranding: Something we paid a marketing firm way too much to develop that won't actually change anyone's perceptions about our organization.

Compliance: A quarterly exercise where we fill in an excel dashboard with numbers we're not entirely sure of, but meet the benchmarks

We're going to use Big data: We're gonna use the filters in Excel

Best practice: We read an article once

Community Engagement

Relationship building: Can hold your liquor

Inclusive: One time we asked someone in the lunch room what they thought about a project.

Community: Anyone who doesn't work here

Community engagement: Conversations with 10 or more people who don't work here.

Involved the community: We brought in a few people, gave them no training on the type of guidance we were seeking, and then talked about how useless it was to have them there after they left.

Community partnerships: Because we wanted that grant

We have long-standing relationships with many community partners: We did a one-time, limited-duration grant project with that agency once many years ago, but keep putting their names down as a community partner.

Strong network of community partners: We work with three orgs a lot

Equity: Something we just talk about

Letter of support: I write it and pretend to sound like you and your org, then you sign it


He brings considerable private sector experience: He worked at Microsoft and we're easily impressed

Our board of directors is engaged and empowered: Be ready for regular bouts of conflicting micro-management.

Engaged board: The board will micromanage all of the things that don't matter, like which shade of grey the supply room should be painted, but will disappear when something important, like fundraising, needs to be done.

Executive Session: We're gonna grill your ass without you in the room, then act like it was simply private protocol all along, but as conflict-avoiders we're not aware of other options

Goal of increasing board engagement: We had 4 months straight without a quorum.

Annual meeting: Our bylaws make us do this every year, so let's have a party!!!

Board meeting packet: Something we spend 12 hours preparing, that 0 to 2 board members will read


Development plan: List of bake sales and people we plan to beg for money

Diverse revenue stream: We'll take money from where ever we can get it

Must be able to innovate our fundraising:  We have no freaking idea beyond silent auctions and golf outings.

Friendraiser: Fundraiser that bombed

They've supported us for a long time: This donor is probably going to say something problematic or unintentionally racist to you; please just give them a pass this once.

We raised awareness: We raised NO money

Sustainability: A land of rainbows and unicorns


Thought leader: A leader among thoughts. When referring to self, marks an irritating, pretentious person/org.

Innovative: We're trying to sound edgy and disruptive

Disruptive: We're trying to sound edgy and innovative

Sabbatical: Rehab

Grassroots organization/nonprofits in general: Place filled with people who care so darn much about making a difference that they knowingly take this job - with joy - understanding full well that all or most of the above comments are true.

Taken from our friends at Nonprofits With Balls***a highly recommended blog for the nonprofit world