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Glossary of Nonprofit Terms

Like any other industry, the nonprofit sector boasts a rich industry jargon - words and phrases that nonprofit professionals use specifically in their work. He's an introductory glossary of some of the commonly used nonprofit terms.


A gift is something that a donor gives to an organization voluntarily and without compensation.  Although cash is the most typical gift, other resources (such as computers, office equipment, and volunteer time) are considered gifts as well.


Grants are funds awarded to non-profit organizations by foundations and  agencies to be used for a specific purpose.  Non-profit organizations apply for grants and the foundation makes award decisions based upon their interest in and the quality of the grant proposal.

Cultivating Donors

The cultivation process is the time spent building relationships and "schmoozing" with potential donors.  This often takes the form of corresponding via mail and telephone, as well as in person.  The purpose is to discover what really interests a potential donor and to find ways of bridging their interests to those of your organization.  Cultivation sets the stage for making "the ask."

"The ask"

This step entails actually asking for money from an individual donor or representative of a corporation and often refers to asking for large sums of money or other resources.  "The ask," which typically takes anywhere from 5 seconds to 5 minutes, is the last step following a long cultivation process with a potential donor. 


People who try to influence the votes of legislators or other public officials for or against a specific cause.

Grassroots Organizers

Grassroots organizers are responsible for providing a non-profit's services at the most local level: within a specific community.


Members typically pay money to belong to a non-profit organization.  In return they receive information, usually in the form of newsletters or magazines, and access to special member services, programs, and events offered by the organization.

Press Releases

Press releases are usually one or two page announcements sent out to television stations, radio stations, newspapers, and/or magazines informing them about new programs, services, or upcoming events in the organization. 

Pitch Letters

Pitch letters are letters sent to editors of various magazines and newspapers in the hopes of generating interest and motivating them to write an article about your organization.   Pitch letters are longer than press releases, typically providing all the necessary background information for a reporter to write a detailed story.

Press Kits

Press kits are packaged sets of promotional materials and information regarding an organization that are created for distribution to members of the press and other interested parties.

Tax Exempt

When an organization is tax exempt, it means that it does not have to pay any contributions to the government.  Employees of non-profits still need to pay income tax, however!


Foundations are non-profit organizations that are established for the purpose of aiding and funding other non-profit organizations, most often in the areas of social service, education, religion, and the arts.  Foundations are generally established by an individual or a corporation, such as the Ford Foundation.

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