Philanthrosaurus | Spring 2019

It's time for another round of philanthrosaurus - a chance to translate trending phrases and concepts in philanthropy.

By Chris Oien
Illustration by Doug Panton

Impactful: This word is of recent vintage, only being recognized by dictionaries for a few decades now. In the social sector it’s an adjective that’s usually applied to written or spoken words, e.g. “an impactful statement.” It’s a close cousin of “meaningful” but implies a little more, that these words are going to lead to inspire action and lead to a positive outcome. I think it’s caught on in our sector because of how many conversations we have about measuring impact.

Person-centered: This is a philosophy you’ll most often see on the nonprofit side of the sector. It involves delivering services by meeting people where they’re at rather than prescribing a one-size-fits all approach. I also wonder if this could wander into the vocabulary at foundations,
specifically around evaluation. If a program a foundation would like to support feels pressure to contort itself to hit an outside standardized evaluation metric, nobody is really winning in that scenario. Is it possible to flip that dynamic on its head and center evaluation around those
being served?

Transformative: Another adjective, you’ll find this one describing words like “leadership.” It promises a lot: not just that things will change for the better, but that they will be completely different, like nothing that came before, operating under a whole new paradigm (did someone say
buzzwords?). It’s a big claim and in the end it’s what our work is all about, but take care to not wear it out through overuse whenever you want to say “double-plus good.”

Storytelling: There’s been a huge push in the last few years to change the way foundations and nonprofits communicate about the work that they do. Rather than starting from a third person perspective with overviews and statistics, storytelling gets personal and zooms in on individual
experiences with the programs and services being offered. Nonprofits were quicker to embrace storytelling as a way to appeal to current and potential donors, but foundations are also finding more and more success with this narrative approach. See recent communications from The
McKnight Foundation for some examples of foundation storytelling in action.

Heard any new buzzwords you want to put under the microscope?
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