Since Shared Insight’s founding in 2014, we have struggled with the right words to describe the people at the heart of our work. Some of the phrases we’ve considered, debated, and found wanting include “end beneficiaries,” “clients,” and “ultimate intended constituents.” We ultimately chose the phrase “the people we seek to help” in part due to the recognition that nonprofits and philanthropy don’t always reach the people they intend to help.

We also think the phrasing honestly describes the intentions of leaders and staff members at foundations working to help people through philanthropy. We’ve noticed, too, that other organizations, including CEP, have put thought to this issue and have adopted the same or similar phrases.

Recently (some might say “finally”), we decided to ask some nonprofit partners and their participants/clients/end beneficiaries what they thought of the word “help,” how they view themselves, and what words we should use to describe them in the context of our work.

In the meantime, until we find better language, Shared Insight will continue to use variations of the phrase, “the people we seek to help.” And we’ll also stick with using “voices least heard,” a phrase itself so densely packed with meaning and implications related to power inequities and other issues that we’d need a whole other blog post to address it.

But whatever language we employ now and into the future, one thing we have learned in our work with several hundred nonprofits and funders is that no single phrase is ever likely to capture the power, spirit, and insights of the people nonprofits serve, or the dynamic relationships among philanthropy’s many players.

Read the full article about the language we use to describe those impacted by nonprofit work by Melinda Tuan at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.