Understanding the Importance of Language Now so Your Nonprofit Can Support Policy Reform Later


Leslie Barnes

Peaceful protest in downtown Kansas City

Co-author on this blog:

Sara Watson

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Well, maybe not. Language matters.

You’re ready to advocate for the policies needed to accomplish your goals. You’ve got great stories, evidence and messengers. How do you get your funders on board, and how do you show them you’re using their funds precisely and accurately, as they and government rules require? This reassurance can help encourage them to allow you the maximum flexibility allowed by law.

In a new publication, “Advocacy vs. Lobbying: Language Matters. Say What You Mean & Mean What You Say,” Bolder Advocacy Guest Contributor Dr. Sara Watson gives specific advice on the language for funder proposals, funder reports and organizational documents that distinguishes between advocacy (non-lobbying) and lobbying activities. Any major initiative will generate an enormous paper trail of working documents – proposals, reports, memos, interoffice communications, etc., that convey the intent and content of actions. Even if you’re certain which activities are which, you need to describe them accurately to convey the right picture of your work, reassure your funders, remind staff of the differences, and create the appropriate documentation. Therefore, it’s vital for grantees to use language in any products and oral communications – but especially in funder proposals and reports – that carefully distinguishes between these different types of activities.

The brief covers the benefits of careful wording, general language for proposals, and an array of specific terms emphasizing lobbying versus non-lobbying advocacy activities. For example, words such as “lobby, persuade, convince and win legislative victories” are more associated with lobbying, while “educate, inform, show and advance policy issues” convey non-lobbying activities. Use the best words to show your funders, board, and others that you say what you mean and mean what you say!

Dr. Watson is the founder of Watson Strategies LLC and has a thirty-year career in philanthropy and policy advocacy. She has written a variety of publications on foundation engagement in public policy advocacy.

Click here to download the Advocacy vs. Lobbying: Language Guide