Acronyms, Jargon and Other Fundraising Terms to Know

Like all industries, fundraising professionals have their own “insiders language.” Know it, speak it and contribute to it. You won’t regret the hour or two it takes to get comfortable with the basic lingo.

Last updated: 8-22-2017

Recently a friend of mine got a full-time position as a development coordinator. My buddy (God bless him), has no experience in fundraising.

This got me to thinking back to when I first started in the industry. As you know, an outsider has a lot to learn about the nonprofit and fundraising world when they get started (we’ve all been there). And, if you are an outsider trying to break into fundraising and you don’t know some of the “basics,” it will be obvious to your colleagues and not reflect well on you.

With that in mind, I wanted to address one small aspect of being a development professional, and that is: knowing your jargon. You know, being able to have a conversation with another fundraising professional and understanding all the acronyms, terms and phrases that come up in conversation.

I still remember the day I learned what a LYBUNT was… (A huge thank you to the person who taught me, you know who you are). It was during a phone call with a pretty prestigious consultant. She was baffled that I had no clue what the acronym meant. I was sweating bullets on the other end of the phone line.

Now, with that being said, the content we are about cover is not all encompassing.

I am certain that I am missing certain vernacular — please, please, please share what you think should be added (or removed) in the comment section below. And also keep in mind that this “guide” is not the “end all be all.” Having an “insider’s” language is great, but it can also reinforce old and unwanted stereotypes and habits. (We are going to discuss LYBUNT in this article, but that doesn’t mean you should actually use LYBUNT in your day-to-day work, instead consider more “donor friendly” or “donor-centric” phrases like “donors with waning interest,” or something along those lines).

Alright, let’s jump in.

Fundraising terms, acronyms and jargon

501(c)(3) IRS designation for public serving nonprofit organizations exempt from income tax and eligible to receive tax-deductible gifts.
501(c)(4) IRS designation for advocacy organizations (nonprofit organizations exempt from income tax but not eligible to receive tax-deductible gifts because they engage in advocacy-type efforts).
990 Form used by the IRS for annual reporting by nonprofit organizations.
990 PF Form 990 used by the IRS for private foundations.
Advancement The term advancement encompasses alumni relations, communications, development, marketing and allied areas within educational institutions.
AFP Association of Fundraising Professionals (formerly NSFRE)—professional organization for fundraisers.
Annual giving Annually repeating gift programs; seeking funds on annual or recurring basis from the same constituency; income is generally used for operating budget support.
APRA Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (former name: American Prospect Research Association)—professional organization for people who scout out prospective donors.
Bequest A transfer, by will, of personal property such as cash, securities, or other tangible property.
Capital campaign A carefully organized, highly structured fundraising program using volunteers supported by staff and consultants to raise funds for specific needs, to be met in a specific time frame, with a specific dollar goal. Allows donors to pledge gifts to be paid over a period of years.
CASE The Council for Advancement and Support of Education is a professional association for advancement professionals who work at educational institutions.
CFRE Certified Fund Raising Executive—certification/credential for fundraisers.
Charitable Remainder Trust A tax-exempt irrevocable trust designed to reduce the taxable income of individuals by first dispersing income to the beneficiaries of the trust for a specified period of time and then donating the remainder of the trust to the designated charity.
CNP Center on Nonprofits & Philanthropy—part of the Urban Institute, houses the NCCS, the national repository of data on the U.S. nonprofit sector.
CRM/Database Customer Relationship Management; otherwise known as the software program that collects specific data about your donors (name, contact, giving history, lifetime giving total, etc.)
Donor Also known as supporter or prospect; a person who has given money in one form or another to further your organization’s mission or cause.
Donor Advised Fund A donor-advised fund, or DAF, is a philanthropic vehicle established at a public charity. It allows donors to make a charitable contribution, receive an immediate tax benefit and then recommend grants from the fund over time.
Endowment A form of a donation consisting of investment funds or other property that is designed to keep the principal amount intact while using the investment income from dividends for charitable efforts.
Gift in Kind A gift of goods and services, instead of cash or stock.
Leadership gift A leadership gift is a large donation made by a single person, a small set of people, or a foundation at the very start of the fund drive. It is typically the largest gift of the drive and is used to inspire others to contribute.
Legacy Society Usually comprised of donors who’ve left a gift in their estate plans for the organization; some organizations have formal societies depending on their size.
LYBUNT Donors who gave last year but unfortunately not this.
Major gifts A gift of significant amount (size of gift may vary according to organization ’ s needs and goals); may be repeated periodically. Also a program designation.
Moves management Moves management is the process by which a prospective major donor is moved from cultivation to solicitation. “Moves” are the actions an organization takes to bring in donors, establish relationships, and renew contributions.
NCCS National Center for Charitable Statistics—located at The Urban Institute, the national repository of data on the nonprofit sector in the United States.
NGO non-governmental organization
NPO nonprofit organization
Planned/legacy gift A gift provided for legally during the donor’s lifetime, but whose principal benefits do not accrue to the institution until some future time, usually at the death of the donor or his or her income beneficiary.
Pledge A signed and dated commitment to make a gift over a specified period, generally two or more years, payable according to terms set by the donor, with scheduled monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, or annual payments.
Principal gift Depending on the organization, a gift of several hundred thousand to millions of dollars; high-dollar gifts made by fewer individuals.
Return on Investment (ROI) A measure used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment by analyzing the amount of return on an investment relative to the investment’s cost.
Restricted gift A gift for a specified purpose clearly stated by the donor.
Soft Credit Acknowledging the efforts of someone, other than the legal donor, who facilitated a gift by providing ‘soft’ (or associated) credit for that gift. Soft credit allows an organization to acknowledge these efforts without compromising their legal obligation to record a donation in accordance with IRS regulations.
Sequential giving A cardinal principle of fundraising counsel: gifts in a campaign should be sought “from the top down”; that is, the largest gifts in a gift range chart should be sought at the outset of a campaign, followed sequentially by the search for lesser gifts.
Sustaining Gifts A donation with multiple ongoing payments, including payments of a specific amount that occur over a defined period of time that may or may not have an end date. Also commonly referred to as; Recurring Gifts, Monthly Gifts, Ongoing Gifts.
SYBUNT Donors who gave some year but unfortunately not this.
Third sector Used to describe all nonprofit organizations and institutions. Also known as the independent sector, not to be confused with the organization called Independent Sector.
Unrestricted gift A gift to an institution or agency for whatever purposes officers or trustees choose.

Whew. That’s a lot of words, acronyms, and fundraising terms. The reality is that not all of these will come up in your day-to-day work life, but rather when you go to a conference (there’s a lot of jargon there!) or attend a seminar (or webinar, for that matter).

Like all industries, fundraising professionals have their own “insiders language.” Know it, speak it and contribute to it. You won’t regret the hour or two it takes to get comfortable with the list above.

It’s a safe bet that if you’ve made it this far you’re most likely interested in other “new to development” type materials. You’re in luck! Instead of sharing a “top ten best resources to become a fundraising superstar in seconds” resource, I’ll cut right to the chase. Fundraising is difficult, but for a beginner, its core concepts are quite simple to pick up.

Andrea McManus

Take for example this blog post from Andrea McManus, CFRE (you do remember what CFRE stands for, right?) published in 2011, titled “Six Things I Wish I Had Known at the Beginning of My Fundraising Career.” Read it. It’s not long, it’s not complex, but it sure is on point. There are myriad resources just like this floating online. When it comes to getting comfortable with development basics rely on short and sweet articles like this one.

Jargon, acronyms, and the core concepts of fundraising — it’s all part of the nonprofit lingo, but you’re armed with this handy terms sheet as a resource if you’re just starting your development career.

35 thoughts on “Acronyms, Jargon and Other Fundraising Terms to Know”

      1. Zach, jargons can throw us off so it is helpful to know what they are and what they represent. In the spirit of “adding” to the list, I just thought of CRT, Charitable Remainder Trust and DAF’s (Donor Advised Funds). Thanks.

    1. Thanks, Nancy. I’ve added “Soft Credit” to the list above. Here’s the definition I used, please let me know if you think it is lacking or missing something: “Acknowledging the efforts of someone, other than the legal donor, who facilitated a gift by providing ‘soft’ (or associated) credit for that gift. Soft credit allows an organization to acknowledge these efforts without compromising their legal obligation to record a donation in accordance with IRS regulations.”

  1. Prospects and Suspects. Cultivation and Solicitation. The Ask and The Close. PCI Compliance. CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education–also known as “Copy And Steal Everything”). Leadership Gift (and good luck trying to find agreement on that definition!)

  2. This is a great article. How about ROE (return on engagement) as many NPOs are also now having to host events to fundraise. Also LOI (letter of intent) and MOU (memorandum of understanding). Oh and Advancement for the university organizations.

  3. Hi Zack, I think your list is very interesting but missing one jargon and that is “Lapsed Donors”: these are donors who gave 2,3 or 4 years ago but have not given again, in a nutshell. But bear in mind that maybe I am using the British lingo rather than American and hence I am not very familiar with your “Sybunt” and “Lybunt”.

  4. Great List! You could expand further if you add information for Corporate and Foundation Relations professionals:

    CFR: Corporate and Foundation Relations
    GIK: Gifts-in-Kind
    NACRO: Network of Academic Corporate Relations Officers

  5. I realize the thread is old, but maybe you and the group can offer the answer. What is the PC term for the type of auction event where you buy tickets and deposit your tickets in the basket for the item you really want. Many people know this type of auction as a “Chinese Auction”, but that is not very PC. Any suggestions?

  6. AHP (Association for Healthcare Philanthropy) is a key resource group for 5,000+ medical- and health-related development professionals internationally. It might be worth including in this very helpful list.

  7. It was interesting when you explained that the term “sybunt” refers to a donor who gave to a cause in a previous year but won’t be donating this year. My brother mentioned he’s looking for a fundraising consultant to help him develop effective strategies for the non-profit organization he’s developing. I’ll pass along this info so he can prepare to work effectively with a campaign consultant!

  8. Hello, would there be a name or phrase for when a business or corporation donated an auction item or money for an auction item for an event. That wouldn’t just be donation or monetary donation gift? A charity I’m working with wants a name for this on their contribution brochure. We were thinking like there is already a acronym for this… but they said a CAD gift for Corporate Auction Donation but I’m trying to see if there is an already familiar or known term or acronym for this type of contribution.

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