Why you should use empowering language in grant proposals

October 28, 2019

As fundraisers who craft customized language each and every day, we are deeply aware of how words can be used to inspire, persuade, and inform others. However, we may not always be aware of the impact our language can have.

Research shows us that linguistic patterns can perpetuate real-life power disparities. Even small differences in language can reveal personal bias, beliefs, and perception of a situation or group of people.

While it may seem counterintuitive to mainly focus on the power of people when discussing their needs, here are a few key reasons to adopt empowering, strengths-based language in your fundraising strategy:

Empowering language reflects the full reality of those you serve.

Because language shapes perception, we have a responsibility to represent our constituent’s and their experiences wholly and truthfully – the way anyone would like to be represented when being introduced to a new party. The communities your organization serves are resilient, fully capable, and will persist with or without philanthropy. Every individual has their own agency, goals, and desires, and communities will always have existing networks in place to support their needs, therefore the stories we share should reflect that reality.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a need facing the community, but instead emphasizes that the need is not insurmountable. The need is not only multifaceted, but contextual. Reflecting on the real power of people through your choice of language is an essential part of building an empowering and authentic relationship between your community and your supporters.

Empowering language aligns with shifts in foundation priorities in the nonprofit sector.

With the understanding that language matters, many funders are choosing to lead the charge in adopting and modeling empowering language. Top institutional givers, such as Ford and the California Endowment, as well as young foundations like Echoing Green are shifting their priorities to focus on addressing issues of power and equity.

As fundraisers, using empowering language positions us to cultivate relationships with funders that positions us as advocates and educators for our communities, while also giving us the opportunity to respond to the shifting funding landscape. Choosing to use empowering language is one step towards building power and equity for your community – and can be a key method for demonstrating your alignment with funders’ interests.

Empowering language amplifies your mission.

Whatever your specific mission, your vision is built around serving a need in your community. Empowering language is a way of representing your organization and community. It is a method that can be applied across issue areas, interventions, and program structures.

Empowering language can amplify your mission because it serves to change the understanding of your work at a fundamental level – motivating others to see solutions rather than barriers. By focusing on the power, strength, and resources in your community, you are demonstrating how you are part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

Want to continue the conversation about developing and using empowering language to advance equity?

Join Alison, LaTissia, and Sierra at the GPA National Conference on November 7th for a panel discussion for nonprofit professionals on how to use language strategically to build power for your constituents at every level of the fundraising process! To learn more about the topics that other Elevate staff will be presenting at the conference this year, stay tuned for upcoming blog posts.

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Written by Sierra Francis Perez and Alison Hight

This article was developed in conjunction with a presentation at the 2019 Grant Professionals Association Annual Conference created and led by Elevate staff.

About the Authors:

Sierra Francis Perez
Alison Hight