Has the Word 'Impact' Lost Its Impact?
By Sarah Ford on April 25, 2014
Two years ago, I wrote an article about the use of the wordinnovative in our field. The gist of the article was that those who trumpet the fact they are innovative probably aren't, and that, conversely, truly innovative organizations aren't in the habit of publicly defining themselves as "innovative."
In this article I want to look at another word that is getting a workout. It's not sustainability, community, or empower -- although our sector could walk away from all three of those and not be any worse for it.
No, the word I want to consider is impact.
March and April are conference season in the nonprofit sector, which means I have plenty of opportunities to hear what other fundraisers and nonprofit marketers are doing to inspire donors to give. Recently, I got together with some fellow fundraisers at one of these conferences to talk about our different approaches to asking for money. During our conversation, I heard the word impact (in its various forms) used at least five times. In fact, when I think about it, the word was everywhere at that particular conference, from exhibit booths, to program materials, to live Twitter feeds from sessions with titles such as:
- Impact Investing
- How to Get Donors to Understand Your Impact
- Impact Fundraising – Truly Getting Donors to Give to Your Cause
- Marketing Impact to Your Volunteers
- Training Your Board on Your Mission and Impact
I mean, if the word had a publicist, she'd be getting rich from a job well done!
As you might imagine, after a couple of days of this I began to examine my own use of the word. Surrounded by others who spoke the language fluently, I realized I had adopted their patterns of speech and even used the word five times in the presentation I gave at the conference.
"Our organization impacts the lives of children in urban neighborhoods."
"We are impacting families in your community."
"David was profoundly impacted by the mentor our program provided."
I'll be the first to admit I'm not an expert on words and their use, but step back with me and think about the word impact. Used as a noun, the word suggests change, presumably for the better. Creating impact is at the very center of nonprofit work, and fortunately we live in a day and age when organizations around the globe are having an impact on the lives of the people they serve.
Now, consider this: Have you ever been in a meeting with a potential donor in which, without prompting from you, he or she uses the word impact? Probably not, right? And the reason: It's our word, not theirs.