Philanthro-speak rapped – Deciphering ’empowermation’

The mind-numbing tendency of foundation insiders and nonprofit grantwriters to use meaningless jargon has been criticized by the president of The New York Times Foundation.

Like government and politics, the foundation world is “burdened with limp, lazy usages,” Jack Rosenthal, president of the Times Foundation and former editor in chief of the Times Magazine, wrote in the magazine on July 30.

“But there is a difference,” he says. “In grant applications, trite, trendy or vague terms do more than glaze the reader’s eye. They invite grant denials.”

As examples, he cites the use of the term “empowermation” and the phrase “convening stakeholders to develop action plans to promote standards reform, and initiating implementation of those plans.”

Other terms he singles out: accountability, bench-marking, challenge, collaborative, constraints, cutting edge, extrapolate, integrate, learnings, leverage, linkage, paradigm, parameter, pro-active, resources, stratgegy, synergy, time frame, zero-based.

Rosenthal also praises “In Other Words,” a new booklet published by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation that he says sheds light on the language of “beseechment” that clouds communication in the world of philanthropy and nonprofits.

The need for shorthand sometimes can excuse the use of some jargon, Rosenthal says, but adds: “Excuses aside, by using lame or impenetrable terms, organizations that serve laudable public purposes do not advance their chances in the competition for foundation funds – not when most jargon and clichés can be avoided with a little effort.”

He says that offending jargon is “hardly limited to philanthropy. They befog language in the academy, the Pentagon, the laboratory, the corporate office. Glazing the eye, they dissolve into invisibility, discourage reading and defeat comprehension completely.”

For the full story, go to The New York Times.

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