3 Words You Should Never Say

You’re a nonprofit executive. You represent a mission. You build consensus. You rally staff, volunteers, and the community. You do not own anything, and it is not all about you. Therefore, the words my, me, and I should rarely, if ever, pass your lips.

Image via Flickr, courtesy of www.lumaxart.com

Image via Flickr courtesy of www.lumaxart.com

There is never a right time to refer to “my staff,” “my budget,” or “my donors.”

“I” and “me” are almost as bad. As a nonprofit executive, you don’t do anything alone. Using “I” and “me” in your speaking or writing projects egotism, seems to seek credit for all aspects of your organization, and prevents people from feeling valued and part of the organization on a personal level.

Check out the subtle difference in these sentences:

“I’m going to refer that to my Director of Education.” vs. “I’m going to refer that to our Director of Education.”

“In working with my donors, I hear about why SPARC’s¬†mission is important.” vs. “In working with our donors, we hear about why SPARC’s mission is important.”

“My budget has grown by 20% this year.” vs. “Our budget has grown by 20% this year.”

“I raised $500,000 this year.” vs. “We raised $500,000 this year.”

I caught myself doing this the other day. At a networking event, I asked a question of the speaker and needed to reference the Director of Development in my question. I said, “Am I able to bring my Director of Development to the meeting?” Most people probably didn’t notice, but my heart immediately sank. Our Director of Development is a strong and capable professional; she doesn’t deserve to be spoken of as a possession. She serves the organization, its mission, and the people we serve. She does not serve me.

Using inclusive language invites others to feel a part of something bigger than themselves. Even when people reference you personally, your response to gather the collective “we” projects appreciation for the contributions of others. You may be in charge, you may have the ability to hire/fire, and you may even have independently done the thing being recognized — but you don’t need to remind people of it. Use “we” and watch people rally around you. Use “I” and stand alone.

The one exception is when there is blame to be taken. Unless it will cost you your job, be a sponge for criticism, especially that which could be deflected to your staff. The best leaders are windows for praise (it passes right through them to others) and sponges for blame.

Few nonprofit executives I’ve met actually think their organization revolves around them. But when we’re not careful, our language can make it seem that we do.

And words matter.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “3 Words You Should Never Say

  1. Ryan, this is plenty true for folks working with for-profit companies as well. Everything we do is collaborative, shared and fueled by teamwork. I kick myself when I (too often) use these three words, too.