Retronyming your fundraising

When something new comes along, it goes through four stages of linguistic evolution:

1. We don’t know what to call it.  To use the example of a car, the early contenders for the title included autokenetic, autometon, buggyaut, motorig, and truckle.  (“Dad, can I borrow the buggynaut?” “Sure, but make sure you bring it back with a full vessel of petrolzine!”)

2. We define it by what we know.  Henry Ford wanted to call the car the quadricycle (like a bicycle, only with four wheels), but “horseless carriage” or “motor carriage” won the day — like a carriage, only without horses or with motors.

3. We redefine what came before.  The world for this is a retronym.  Now that the standard is a car, what came before is a horseless carriage.  We never used to have to specify broadcast TV or live TV or pocket watch or terrestrial radio or landline or snail mail or dumb phone or World War I.  Now we do.

4. The new thing gets stemmed off from like in #2.  “Car” has won the day; something horse drawn is referred to as such.  And now we stem off car: smart car, electric car, flying car (OK, not yet).

It’s not inevitable that something makes the full transition.  We never made it past “like a disc, only compact” or “like a lung, but made of iron” (thank goodness).  As much as we talk about snail mail, we also talk about “like mail, but electronic.”

And we mix things together.  I still talk about rewinding a TV show, even though there’s no longer tape in a VCR that’s actually rewinding.  (This may be because I’m old.)

My point, and I do have one, is that this language reflects how we think about a thing — what are its essential features?  And when does the new supplant the old?

I was put in mind of this recently when we were working to describe our new product SimioAudience.  For those who haven’t heard, this is a new co-op but with some significant differences:

– More data: while any co-op will look at charitable giving first and foremost. But most co-ops look at this only. There’s a world of data out there and it might be relevant as to whether someone will give to your disease charity if they themselves have had the disease or whether they will support your education charity if they have school-aged kids. And so on. So SimioAudience includes all that in their models.

– Advanced data science: artificial intelligence and machine learning instead of regression analyses in Excel.

– Built in the cloud, it has not only greater security, but faster links to new data and new data science methods.

But the question we got over and over again is “is it a co-op?”  People wanted to put it in a mental category that already exists.  I won’t spoil what we came up with to explain this dichotomy but it’s our hope this becomes like category three: what would be called traditional co-ops today soon have to be called “transaction only co-ops” or “terrestrial database co-ops” or the like.

Other candidates for change:

Digital printing is becoming more and more the norm.  There are still printing presses available that Gutenberg would recognize once you explained to him moveable type, inkjets, and electricity.  Now, however, paper is simply a digital canvas capable of near infinite variety.  The level of customization is such that you can have what amounts to a different letter for each person based on the same template, taking into account all of that rich first-party, demographic, transaction, behavioral, and other data sources.  There will come a day, hopefully soon, where digital printing is assumed and everything else is analog.

Donations are mostly thought of as one-time donations.  However, there may be an evolution from #2 to #3 on this, as monthly donations continue to grow in popularity, both for donors to give and for nonprofits to receive.  Last year, they amounted to 35% of all donations and rising.  As we’ve said in our free Sustainer Revolution white paper, this continues to grow.  While it requires a more committed donor, many of the newer ways to bring donors into an organization default to monthly giving or (in the case of F2F) require it.  So we could get to the point where we have to specify we are talking about one-time donations rather than specify we are talking about sustainers.

Segmentation is changing from top-down to bottom-up.  As we outline in our Death to Buckets white paper and webinar, dividing donors into buckets will always — always! — leave some people in the bucket who shouldn’t be there.  The goal of bottom-up segmentation is to start from the individual and see where they fit in the line of most-to-least likely people who donate to your organization.  Hopefully, there will come a day when this is the norm and one must specify they are doing it the old way if they work to divide us up.

Other terms like this?  Would love to hear your thoughts at

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