A Glossary of Key Fundraising Terms, Jargon, and Vocabulary You Need to Know

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Zach Shefska is Chief Operating Officer at MarketSmart. Outside of the office, you'll find Zach behind either a pottery wheel or flight controls of a Piper PA-28 airplane.

Every profession has its fair share of jargon. Fundraising, and nonprofits in general, are no exception. Fundraising terms, acronyms, and jargon are as varied and valid as any other industry. As professionals in this field, we certainly have a wide-ranging glossary of phrases at our disposal.

Five years ago I began my career in nonprofit fundraising. As you know, there’s a lot to learn when you get started (we’ve all been there). If you’re new to the industry it’s vitally important that you know some of the “basics.” If you don’t, it can be fairly obvious to your colleagues that you’re not “up to speed.”

With that in mind, today’s blog post is an attempt to consolidate all the jargon, terms, acronyms, and phrases us development professionals use in one place. Think of this as a glossary of sorts. It’s my hope that you can share this link with a newly hired colleague and that they’ll get great value out of it. Also, if you think a term is missing from this list, please comment below. We’ll update this page as frequently as possible.

Please enjoy, and please share on , LinkedIn, or , or with anyone who you think might find this information valuable.

Alright, let’s jump in.

Glossary of fundraising terms

501(c)(3)IRS designation for public serving nonprofit organizations exempt from income tax and eligible to receive tax-deductible gifts.
501(c)(4)IRS designation for advocacy organizations (nonprofit organizations exempt from income tax but not eligible to receive tax-deductible gifts because they engage in advocacy-type efforts).
990Form used by the IRS for annual reporting by nonprofit organizations.
990 PFForm 990 used by the IRS for private foundations.
AdvancementThe term advancement encompasses alumni relations, communications, development, marketing and allied areas within educational institutions.
AFPAssociation of Fundraising Professionals (formerly NSFRE)—professional organization for fundraisers.
APCAssociation of Philanthropic Counsel—professional organization for fundraiser consultants.
Annual givingAnnually repeating gift programs; seeking funds on annual or recurring basis from the same constituency; income is generally used for operating budget support.
APRAAssociation of Professional Researchers for Advancement (former name: American Prospect Research Association)—professional organization for people who scout out prospective donors.
BequestA transfer, by will, of personal property such as cash, securities, or other tangible property.
Capital campaignA carefully organized, highly structured fundraising program using volunteers supported by staff and consultants to raise funds for specific needs, to be met in a specific time frame, with a specific dollar goal. Allows donors to pledge gifts to be paid over a period of years.
CASEThe Council for Advancement and Support of Education is a professional association for advancement professionals who work at educational institutions.
CFRECertified Fund Raising Executive—certification/credential for fundraisers.
Charitable Remainder TrustA tax-exempt irrevocable trust designed to reduce the taxable income of individuals by first dispersing income to the beneficiaries of the trust for a specified period of time and then donating the remainder of the trust to the designated charity.
CNPCenter on Nonprofits & Philanthropy—part of the Urban Institute, houses the NCCS, the national repository of data on the U.S. nonprofit sector.
CRM/DatabaseCustomer Relationship Management; otherwise known as the software program that collects specific data about your donors (name, contact, giving history, lifetime giving total, etc.)
DonorAlso known as supporter or prospect; a person who has given money in one form or another to further your organization’s mission or cause.
Donor-Advised FundA donor-advised fund, or DAF, is a philanthropic vehicle established at a public charity. It allows donors to make a charitable contribution, receive an immediate tax benefit and then recommend grants from the fund over time. Click here for an in depth guide to donor-advised funds.
EndowmentA form of a donation consisting of investment funds or other property that is designed to keep the principal amount intact while using the investment income from dividends for charitable efforts.
Gift in KindA gift of goods and services, instead of cash or stock.
IRA RolloverA type of donation that comes from a donor’s individual retirement account, and can be as large as $100,000 from each year. Click here for an in depth guide to IRA Rollovers.
Leadership giftA leadership gift is a large donation made by a single person, a small set of people, or a foundation at the very start of the fund drive. It is typically the largest gift of the drive and is used to inspire others to contribute.
Legacy SocietyUsually comprised of donors who’ve left a gift in their estate plans for the organization; some organizations have formal societies depending on their size.
LYBUNTDonors who gave last year but unfortunately not this.
Major giftsA gift of significant amount (size of gift may vary according to organization ’ s needs and goals); may be repeated periodically. Also a program designation. You might be interested in reviewing the 2020 Major Gift Benchmark Study.
Moves managementMoves management is the process by which a prospective major donor is moved from cultivation to solicitation. “Moves” are the actions an organization takes to bring in donors, establish relationships, and renew contributions.
National Philanthropic TrustThe leading research organization for donor-advised funds. Check out their annual DAF report here.
NCCSNational Center for Charitable Statistics—located at The Urban Institute, the national repository of data on the nonprofit sector in the United States.
NGOnon-governmental organization
NPOnonprofit organization
Planned/legacy giftA gift provided for legally during the donor’s lifetime, but whose principal benefits do not accrue to the institution until some future time, usually at the death of the donor or his or her income beneficiary.
PledgeA signed and dated commitment to make a gift over a specified period, generally two or more years, payable according to terms set by the donor, with scheduled monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, or annual payments.
Principal giftDepending on the organization, a gift of several hundred thousand to millions of dollars; high-dollar gifts made by fewer individuals.
Return on Investment (ROI)A measure used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment by analyzing the amount of return on an investment relative to the investment’s cost.
Restricted giftA gift for a specified purpose clearly stated by the donor.
Soft CreditAcknowledging the efforts of someone, other than the legal donor, who facilitated a gift by providing ‘soft’ (or associated) credit for that gift. Soft credit allows an organization to acknowledge these efforts without compromising their legal obligation to record a donation in accordance with IRS regulations.
Sequential givingA cardinal principle of fundraising counsel: gifts in a campaign should be sought “from the top down”; that is, the largest gifts in a gift range chart should be sought at the outset of a campaign, followed sequentially by thesearch for lesser gifts.
Sustaining GiftsA donation with multiple ongoing payments, including payments of a specific amount that occur over a defined period of time that may or may not have an end date. Also commonly referred to as; Recurring Gifts, Monthly Gifts, Ongoing Gifts.
SYBUNTDonors who gave some year but unfortunately not this.
The Giving InstituteA leading industry group that seeks to actively champion thought leadership that empowers philanthropy. Sister organization to Giving USA (the organization that supplies the annual Giving USA report).
Third sectorUsed to describe all nonprofit organizations and institutions. Also known as the independent sector, not to be confused with the organization called Independent Sector.
Unrestricted giftA gift to an institution or agency for whatever purposes officers or trustees choose.
Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD)A distribution from an IRA made directly to an eligible charity. Learn more about QCDs here.
Will-writing toolsRecent software that allows a supporter to create a will online. Learn more about will-writing tools here.

Whew. That’s a lot of words, acronyms, and fundraising terms. Bear in mind that not all of these phrases are going to come up in your day-to-day work life. I wouldn’t recommend studying these phrases with flashcards, or anything like that. Instead, simply be familiar with them. Next time your at a conference or attending a webinar, and you hear some jargon, you’ll be better prepared to know what it means!

Like all industries, fundraising professionals have their own “insiders language.” Know it, speak it and contribute to it. You won’t regret the hour or two it takes to get comfortable with the list above.

Other resources

Joan Garry

It’s a safe bet that if you’ve made it this far you’re most likely interested in other “new to the industry” type materials. You’re in luck! Fundraising is difficult, but for a beginner, its core concepts are quite simple to pick up.

Take for example this blog post from Joan Garry, titled “Fundraising Career Advice: What I Wish I Knew Then”. Read it. It’s not long, it’s not complex, but it sure is on point. There are myriad resources just like this floating online.

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Jargon, acronyms, and the core concepts of fundraising — it’s all part of being a part of the nonprofit sector. Now you’re armed with this handy glossary of fundraising terms as a resource. Use it, share it, contribute to it!

One response to “A Glossary of Key Fundraising Terms, Jargon, and Vocabulary You Need to Know”

  1. Gord Durnan says:

    Consider adding the terms ; Matching Gifts and Challenge donations to this excellent list of our jargon.

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