What can you do to turn a less-than-positive interaction with a donor into a meaningful moment that helps them advance to the right on the Donor Commitment Continuum—or perhaps even save a great conversation from turning negative? It could be as simple as using the right words.

Imagine you are chatting with a donor about her recent pledge, and you want to let the donor know that the pledge form she submitted was missing a few critical items. How would you phrase it? Some might say, “I need you to fill out the remainder of the form.” However, “I need you to” implies the development professional is the most important person in the relationship—when in fact, the donor is. Swapping “I need you to” with “Would you please,” puts the donor in the driver’s seat and bypasses any potentially negative impressions. Adding, “We are eager to begin work on the project your pledge supports” is a great way to communicate the importance of completing this task in a timely fashion in a way that mirrors the donor’s excitement.

Perhaps you are conversing with a couple about one of their funding ideas, and the project they are proposing has some limitations that could cause delays or problems. Rather than dismissing the couple’s idea by pointing out its limitations, look at the donor couple’s suggestion through the lens of possibilities. In looking for the positive—the possibilities—you and the donors can explore the feasibility of their idea amicably, perhaps helping the couple understand why there may be drawbacks. Communicating using positive words plays a role in delighting your donors, resulting in more rewarding experiences and higher donor engagement with your organization.

The list of examples:

Instead of This Try This
Problem Situation
Negotiate Discuss or Review
I can’t I will
Delay Changes
Limitations Possibilities
I’ll try I have the ability to
Never Seldom
Disorganized Unstructured
Impatient Eager

When communicating with donors, remember that word choices can have a direct impact on their experience. Language with negative connotations can have a suffocating effect on conversations and inhibit the ideas that can result from free-flowing conversations. Word choices can also influence the perception a donor has of your organization. Remember that you are the connection between the donor and the institution you represent. Take the time to consider how your words may come across—your words reflect not only you but also your institution.

Watching your words is a skill that improves with practice. Consider role-playing conversations with a colleague to choose words that are supportive and affirming. Then, when you are in a situation that demands a skillful response, the right words will be ready on your tongue. Selecting words that carry a positive impact gives you the power to help create favorable experiences for donors and a greater impact for your organization.

How do you and your team utilize positive language to effectively communicate with donors? Please share your thoughts by starting a conversation on social media.