Even the most prepared job candidate inadvertently might say the wrong thing during a job interview. But the risk is even greater for for-profit executives interested in transitioning to the nonprofit sector because there are distinct differences in the language used in the two sectors.
The April issue of “Leadership Matters,” published by Bridgestar, a nonprofit initiative of the Bridgespan Group dedicated to attracting, connecting, and supporting executive leaders for the sector, addresses this topic. The featured article, “Lost in Translation: Common Language Pitfalls for Bridgers” is based on discussions with 11 senior executives at nonprofit organizations, some of whom themselves were bridgers executives who move from for-profit to nonprofit.
The senior nonprofit executives shared the following insights:
- Avoid referring to the organization as “the company” or similar words such as “corporation.”
- Don’t use business jargon, such as “ROI” (return on investment), “EBITDA” (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortization), “CAGR” (compounded annual growth rate), or “net profits.” Instead of “income statement” or “profit and loss statement,” say “statement of activities.”
- Be familiar with nonprofit buzzwords, including, “outputs,” “outcomes,” “major donors,” and “development.”
- Don’t assume that those in the nonprofit sector don’t know business terms. That can be just as bad (and totally condescending) as using jargon blindly without stopping to see if it’s registering with anyone.
- Research the organization’s website and print materials to see what words they use. Some words that started out in the business world have been embraced by the nonprofit sector.