Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Buzzwords decoded

I’ll be upfront with you – I started the buzzwords list as a cheap way to look for trends. But everyone keeps asking me about it – are they good or bad? How do you find them? What do they mean?

So, in the spirit of “please don’t take this as science” here is what I know about buzzwording:

1. There are three kinds of buzzwords:
a. Buzzwords that help identify patterns among seemingly dissimilar activities, coming in over the horizon, or being brought into the field of philanthropy from another domain. include things like “prototyping,” "labs,” and “hyperlocal.” Sometimes these follow the path of buzzword → practice → jargon. But not always.

b. Buzzwords that put a name to an issue that everyone is discussing, but not necessarily doing. Given enough space, these buzzwords can actually help tilt the field from discussion to action. Examples would be the 2004 Future of Philanthropy Report’s focus on collaboration and partnership, which came to life in examples at the 2008 COF conference. Another example is the focus on community leadership sparked by the 2005 On the Brink of New Promise Report and put into play by CF Leads in 2007-8.

c. Buzzwords that give name to the unnamed, therefore making it visible. The most prominent example of this is embedded giving, which simply named a phenomenon that was already pervasive, but that needed a name so it could be discussed.

2. Good or bad is up to you, and what you “use” the buzzword for.

3. Some buzzwords do have lasting meaning. Others never will. Others shouldn’t.

What do you think? Should the buzzword list be made into bingo cards and handed out at major philanthropy conferences? Does something become old hat the minute I declare it a buzzword? Have buzzwords ever been useful to you in any real way?

And keep those buzzword suggestions coming in - the first entries for 2008 are coming up soon....

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