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The Nonprofit Lexicon

Industries have their own specific language. Imagine this conversation in a development office:

“Our major donors who are LYBNTs get soft credits when their company gives a matching gift.”

“FYI, did you see the LOI for our capital campaign that needs our last 990?”

You know what those sentences means, but would your neighbor or your best friend understand the terms?

All industries have jargon, that insider talk, those words and abbreviations that make others raise their eyebrows.

Here are a few examples of our nonprofit jargon:


Written communication to a donor, expressing gratitude for a gift, and including language regarding the tax-deductible nature of the gift, as appropriate.

Annual giving

Seeking funds on an annual basis, which are typically used for general operating expenses.


The way in which your organization asks for financial support. An appeal answers the question, “How did we raise this money?”


A common type of planned gift. A transfer of personal property, such as cash or goods, that is written in a person’s will.


A broad, overarching fundraising effort. Each campaign represents a coordinated set of activities with a specific objective.

Capital campaign

A well-planned fundraising effort to raise a certain amount of money over a defined period of time, to be used for a specific purpose.

Direct mail

Solicitation of gifts or sharing of information about your organization through postal mail.


An individual, foundation, or other entity that makes a gift to your organization.

Donor-advised fund

A philanthropic vehicle administered by investment firms or community foundations. A donor makes a charitable contribution through their donor-advised fund (DAF) and receives an immediate tax benefit.

Donor retention

The measurement of donors who continue to make gifts to your organization beyond their first gift.

Form 990

An annual tax return filed with the IRS for federally tax-exempt organizations.

Lapsed donor

A donor who has contributed to your organization but not in a defined recent period, such as the last 12 – 36 months.

Letter of inquiry (Letter of Interest)

A letter sent by a nonprofit to a foundation or other entity that introduces a funding need and asks if the foundation is willing to receive a full proposal. You may also see or hear it referred to as a LOI.


Donors who made a gift Last Year But Unfortunately Not This (Year).

Major donor

A donor who makes a gift of a significant amount to your organization. Every nonprofit defines their major gift level based on donations received.

Planned giving

A gift made during a donor’s lifetime, that is usually received by the organization at the time of the donor’s death.


A promise to donate a specific sum to an organization over a set period of time.

Prospective donor, or prospect

A person who has not yet made a donation to your organization.

Soft credit

An acknowledgement of a donor who influenced another donor. An employee receives a soft credit when their employer makes a matching gift.


The act of asking a constituent to make a charitable gift to your organization.


Donors who made a gift Some Year But Unfortunately Not This (Year).

These are the common examples of nonprofit lexicon, but the most important term is donor as we work to raise mission-critical funds for our organizations.


Michelle Crim, CFRE

Dynamic Development Strategies can help. We offer coaching, grant writing, and fundraising services. We specialize in small to mid-size organizations because we understand your challenges. Please contact us for more information.

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