Eradicating ‘Provide’

[A few weeks ago, Emily Litchfield of Northern Arizona University reached out to share a win her team had had—they had eradicated the verb ‘provide’ from their Mission Statement! I asked if she would share how they did it so we could all learn from their hard work as part of our Mini-Mission Makeover Series. Hats off to Emily and her team for a job well done!]

CSI Logo In 2009, the Institute for Future Workforce Development and the Gerontology Institute merged to become the Civic Service Institute (CSI) at Northern Arizona University. At that point, we adopted this little beauty of a Mission Statement:

The mission of CSI is linking students, AmeriCorps members, Senior Corp volunteers and others to community, educational and non-profit organizations to build, enhance, and strengthen community capacity, workforce and career development.

Yeah… I worked there and I wasn’t even sure what that meant (and I’m quite certain that none of the other employees did either). How in the world was I supposed to sell that to any potential supporters? I certainly wasn’t going to try and memorize it so I could parrot it back in a robotic fashion, preceded by a long sigh, when asked what it is that we actually “do”.

We needed help! We needed a new mantra that declared our drive, passion and experience not some rigmarole statement packed with as many words as possible. It had to be action oriented because CSI is all about movement and service and community. We needed a good verb because we don’t simply “provide” anything (see Erica’s blog post from April 3, 2014).

After a lot of hard work rearranging word order, researching synonyms, and focusing on verbs, we finally had it and we were pretty darn proud!

The Civic Service Institute (CSI) @ NAU mobilizes generations to strengthen communities through service and volunteerism.

Recently, I read Erica’s mini-mission makeover for July 17, 2014 and I had a moment of disappointment- “Mobilize has issues”?? I took a little breath and decided to celebrate our victories- our mission is miles ahead of where it was in the beginning… and we didn’t use ‘provide’.

ELitchfield Emily Litchfield is the Program Coordinator at CSI.  She enjoys playing the Ukulele and is currently studying for the GREs.

Why ‘provide’ is the lamest verb ever

provide, language, verbs, nonprofit communications, nonprofit marketingLast week, I had the pleasure of presenting at the Food Lifeline conference. Everyone in the room worked or volunteered with a food bank/pantry. They are, as I like to say, foodies.

As I usually do when I have a captive audience, I was harshing on the verb ‘provide’. I explained, as I have many times before, that ‘provide’ is quite possibly the lamest of all verbs a nonprofit could use. It’s boring. Everyone uses it. And, therefore, it does nothing to differentiate you from every other organization. Bad verb, bad.

I have publicly pontificated about my disdain for ‘provide’ in front of thousands of people. Grad students at the University of Washington, Seattle University and the University of Chicago. Hard-working do-gooders in Arizona. Executive Directors visiting from Russia. All of them, plus a whole bunch of others, have heard me go off on ‘provide’. People general nod and agree that it is, in fact, rather lame. No one has ever questioned my vehement disapproval of this seemingly innocuous verb (possibly because after my anti-‘provide’ diatribe they are afraid of me, but let’s assume it’s because they agree that better verbs abound).

So imagine my surprise and delight when a woman came up to me at the Food Lifeline talk and said, “I get that provide doesn’t necessarily differentiate us. But beyond that, why do you dislike it so much?”

Since no one had ever asked me this before, I hadn’t given it much thought, to be honest. I just really, really, really don’t like it. Once asked, I realized it was a bit weird to dislike a word as much as I dislike ‘provide’. Her question forced me to think more deeply about why ‘provide’ gets me so riled up. It’s not like it’s the only lame word out there.

I started to feel badly for lil ol’ ‘provide’. I thought to myself, “It’s just a verb trying its darnedest to be useful, Erica. Stop picking on it.” Then I snapped out of it.

The brave woman who asked me about ‘provide’ made me realize that, in addition to being overused, the reason I don’t think ‘provide’ is a good word choice is because it implies a one-way street. You provide something to someone. No reciprocity. No two-way street. 

And yet, most nonprofits exist to make the world a better place for a group of people–kids, cancer patients, low-income people living with HIV/AIDS, homeless families, victims of domestic abuse, etc etc etc. These people deserve the dignity of a verb that acknowledges that your organization gets as much from them as they do from you.

And so I’ve come full circle–I’m back to really, really, really disliking the verb ‘provide’. There are better verbs out there. Pretty please with sugar on top, go find them!