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Ann Searight Christiano and Aaron Zeiler Co-Author Article on How the Use of Jargon Impedes Clear Communication of a Foundation’s Mission

University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications (UFCJC) Center for Public Interest Communications Director Ann Searight Christiano and Aaron Zeiler, director of partner strategies, are the co-authors of “Foundations are Using So Many Confusing Words That Few People Can Figure Out What They’re Doing” published in The Conversation on April 16.

The authors focus on the perils of “philanthro-speak” or the technical language and jargon that may be difficult to comprehend. They suggest that foundations should use clear definitions and accurate metaphors when describing their work.

They write, “Technical terms can mystify the very nonprofits that foundations might want to support, leaving them uncertain whether they should apply for a grant and unable to deftly apply for one. Metaphors can anchor an abstract concept to a concrete, real-world reference. But it is important to question what they imply and whether they aid comprehension.”

They found that including specific details, such as how foundations make decisions and what nonprofits pay for with foundation dollars, significantly increase Americans’ trust in philanthropy and reduce their concerns about foundations.

They write, “Foundations’ vast financial resources give them the power to address some of the world’s biggest challenges. But their habit of using abstract language and jargon leaves most Americans with little understanding of what the sector does or how to approach a foundation for support on issues that matter most in their own communities. In turn, we believe this problem is making it harder for many worthy causes to get the funding they urgently need and may even impede progress on the missions to which foundations devote themselves.”

Posted: April 17, 2024
Category: Center for Public Interest Communications, College News
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