Giving Compass' Take:
- Sheela Nimishakavi discusses the importance of careful word choice when organizations reach out to donors — too often there is a tendency to draw upon pity, which fails to empower the people nonprofits are trying to help.
- Are you working with organizations that empower the communities they serve? How can you support the use of empowering language and other best practices?
- Take time to examine your complicity in racial inequity.
What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
Well over thirty years ago, person-first language was introduced into the advocacy vernacular. Yet, many nonprofits struggle to infuse their narrative with this language, resorting to identity-first language that dehumanizes and victimizes their constituents but can result in an influx of cash. If this sounds familiar, it’s because poverty porn works in the same way.
Identity-first language uses the condition to define an individual — for instance, calling someone a “disabled person.” Person-first language, on the other hand, defines the individual as a person first, then adds the characteristic, such as a “person with a disability.” While this language most frequently refers to people with disabilities, it has gained popularity among advocates serving other populations, such as those experiencing homelessness, individuals with obesity, and persons with diabetes.
Importantly, person-first language may present these individuals as helpless victims rather than empowered participants. For instance, use of phrases such as “struggles with” or “suffering from” would not be considered person-first language. (Along the lines of empowering language, it should be noted that “person-centered” language centers the idea that individuals should be addressed in the way they prefer, which may mean leading with the identifying trait.)
Empowering participants through language is an idea that resonates with many nonprofits, so the continued use of dehumanizing terms is perplexing until we consider when and where this language is used. Typically, it’s seen in material targeting donors and funders. It becomes clear that this language is employed to evoke an emotional response that leads to a gift. In other words, this is poverty porn.
Read the full article about nonprofits can avoid "othering" language by Sheela Nimishakavi at Nonprofit Quarterly.