2 min Read
September 8, 2016

In praise of jargon: 3 times you should embrace it

The nonprofit and marketing worlds are lousy with jargon. Big Duck exists at the crossroads of those two worlds, so we stumble over a lot of jargon in our daily lives. As much as possible, we recommend avoiding it. Often, jargon is a hurdle that keeps your audiences from understanding — and ultimately supporting — your mission.

But when can or should you use jargon? Here are three potential scenarios:

1) When a new or unfamiliar word creates opportunities for engagement

Our CEO and founder Sarah Durham wrote a book called Brandraising, and now you’ll see that term all over our website. We have found that, by embracing the term, we’re able to have interesting conversations with clients and potential clients about the relationship between organizational branding and fundraising.

So if you’re dealing with new or unfamiliar jargon, go ahead and ask yourself: Does the word or phrase encourage people to learn more, or does it cause them to tune out? If you can pique interest, you probably have an opportunity on your hands.

2) When you do a lot of peer-to-peer communications

For many of our clients who are part of a larger movement — especially if they’re creating partnerships across organizations that do similar work — using insider jargon is actually effective short-hand. A term like heteronormativity might confuse some people or require some explanation. But within sexual and reproductive health and rights organizations, for example, because staff members will understand what heteronormativity is (the belief that heterosexual relationships are the norm), this type of “insider” language can help to set context for the work they’re doing and also build camaraderie across organizations.

3) When you want to change the framing

A couple of years ago, we worked with a human services organization that was all about building on the inherent strengths of children and families. It was incredible work.

When it came time to do their messaging, from our point of view, they had a whole host of problems to discuss that would help to explain why their work was so important: poverty, violence, addiction, and so on. But no. The problems, too, had to be framed in terms of strengths.

It took a lot of hard work, but we got there. We embraced a lot of jargon around “strength-based” messaging. Which means their hard work will continue, probably for years. But it’s hard work they’re willing to do — because ultimately they want to change the very nature of the conversation.

What about you? When have you found jargon to be a useful tool for your communications? Let us know in the comments!

Dan Gunderman

Dan Gunderman is the Former Creative Director at Big Duck

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