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You probably have learned yourself that language matters when it comes to our faith. The words that you use to describe God, the Gospel, and your faith in general will display what’s going on at a heart level. The Bible makes this clear to us when Jesus says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34 ESV) and when James writes of the importance of controlling our words.

In a much less spiritual but still important way, the way we talk about fund development will innately impact the way we view and think about our work. Here are just a few examples of some words we advise you to remove from your vocabulary and an alternative that is better aligned with the heart of our work.

AVOID: Calling our work “fundraising”

Although this is the industry standard term for our role’s equivalent work in other organizations, “fundraising” is usually transactional and focused on producing money exclusively (hence the “fund” raising). In truth, there are many essential roles and responsibilities of a seamless Development strategy. Funding ministry opportunities is only one side of the vision. What we are doing is larger than simply “fundraising”.

INSTEAD: Call our work “Development” or "Fund Development"

Although it can be a bit confusing with many other parts of ministry involving spiritual Development, we prefer this word because it conveys a few important things about what we do:

  1. It’s a process. We are developing our partner base.

  2. It’s a relationship. We care for our partners and develop their patterns of partnership

Across TeamGold and in the conversations you’ll have with others, you’ll frequently see the word “fund” thrown in front: fund development. There’s nothing wrong with this phrase, as long as the focus of our hearts stays on the “development” half and doesn’t get too hung up on the “fund” part.

AVOID: Calling people who give a gift to our ministry “donors”

This one may be hard to change for you, especially if you’ve had experience in fundraising in various other roles or organizations. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the word “donor” - it’s the industry standard across nearly all non-profits.

The reason that we suggest avoiding calling these people our “donors” is because of the image it evokes. Here are a few of the most common associations for the general public with “donor”:

  • Someone who donates their blood

  • An organ donor, who doesn’t even necessarily live to see the impact of their donation

  • A name carved into a plaque on a campus building, a pew, or other product of fundraising

  • A list of names that are thanked at a rally or other public event

What’s true of all of these examples and many other associations people may have is that they involve a commitment that is one-time and usually operates on a quid pro quo basis. A person says, “I’ll give you X this one time, and you’ll give me Y. Then if I want Y again, I can come back and give you X another time.” Usually, the relationship starts and stops with the contribution and the motivation for the contribution is a reward. “Donor” also almost always means giving a valuable possession (money, blood) to a cause and doesn’t factor in other ways that people can help.

This isn’t really what we want our relationship to look like with those who give, though, so “donor” doesn’t seem to be the best word for us to use.

INSTEAD: Use “partners” to refer to those who contribute to our ministry

By calling them “partners”, we are all reminded of the nature of our relationship. Rather than “donors” who give once and wait for the next call, we seek to have an ongoing relationship with our “partners”. Although they may see some immediate reward in giving, they are making an eternal investment in our work to make Jesus known.

In other words, they are not motivated by an earthly reward, but by a heavenly one. The vision of “partnership” also makes it easier to remember that some of our most important partners contribute in intangible ways. There are four main ways that people can partner with us: Labor, Influence, Finances, & Expertise (L.I.F.E)

AVOID: Calling financial contributions “donations”

If we aren’t going to call our partners “donors”, then it doesn’t really make sense to call them “donations”, does it? However, this is not quite as strict of a rule as the donor/partner guideline. You will commonly hear other departments refer to these contributions as donations. In the Finance world, they will produce ‘Donation Reports’. In Cru, we even have an entire team called the Donation Services team.

INSTEAD: Call them “gifts”

In Development, though, we want to use a word that best communicates our heart to the partner. For this reason, we prefer to call them “gifts”. We’ve found that this term better communicates our appreciation for the generosity of our partners. It also highlights the personal nature of the relationship - a “gift” is something you receive on your birthday or on a holiday. Imagine if on Christmas you thanked your loved ones for their “donation”. It would feel strange because there’s a language difference between a donation and a gift.


Ultimately, we know that what matters the most is not the words we say but the heart behind them. This list isn’t exhaustive and there are many incredible Development Professionals out there who ask their “donors” for “donations” to help their “fundraising”.

Are there any other examples of words and attitudes you think we should all be incorporating into our work in developing and caring for our partners?

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