October Word(s) of the Month: Goals vs. Objectives

Goals. Objectives. What’s the difference? And do you need to care?

If you care about your nonprofit being successful then, yes, you need to care. You know that setting appropriate goals and objectives are key to the success of your nonprofit’s initiatives, and your nonprofit as a whole. Because you can’t save the world without a plan!

And according to the Claxon Method, if you’re not clear on your goal, you can’t identify your target audience, and then your messaging risks running amuck. And, although amuck is fun to say, it’s not strategic to do.

That’s why this month, we’re diving deeper in the meanings of goal and objective. We wanted to know: Can we glean anything useful by looking at the history and evolution of these two seemingly similar words?

Let’s start by looking at how we use these today, especially in the business world:

Goal: An overarching aspiration that guides your decisions.

Objective: The smaller, measurable steps that get you to your goal.

For example, the goal of your nonprofit organization may be to end homeless in your city. An objective may be to increase the amount of affordable housing in your city by 50% within 5 years.

Makes sense.

While these words both evolved at different times and in different ways, the definition is basically the same: A destination. Maybe that’s why people use them almost interchangeably.

But it’s worth understanding where these two words came from and, therefore, how they are distinct from one another.

It turns out goal has a longer history than its cousin objective. According to Etymology Online, it first appeared in a poem in the early 14th century as gol, indicating a boundary or limit. The interesting thing? That poem was the word’s only known appearance until a few decades later, when it started to show up as “the endpoint of a race”.

So goal has its roots in sports. Obviously, there’s still a lot of goal-talk today in sports. But when did it evolve to also mean a purpose, or something to strive for, outside of a sport?

Most likely, somewhere around 1960 when the word’s frequency in written communications began to increase drastically:

 

Why the increase? Dunno exactly. But there’s no denying it became in vogue to have/use/write about/talk about having goals. Cuz, #LifeGoals.

In comparison to goal, objective hasn’t been around as long. It appeared as an adjective in 1610 as the counter to subjective, meaning simply “in relation to its object”. Only much later, in 1855, did it start to indicate “unbiased and quantifiable”. (If you’ve ever put together a research study or survey, you’ll know this usage well.)

The usage we’re interested in for this post, meaning “aim or goal” came about much later. In 1881 to be exact. Objective point is a military term used to describe a place upon which to focus a troop’s attention. The stand-alone objective (minus the point) evolved from this usage.

So, whereas goal sprouted from a general boundary or endpoint in a race, objective is rooted in military strategy. Could this be why objectives are smaller and more measurable than goals? In military strategy, your overall goal may be to win a war, and its the objective points of individual troops that will get you there.

I can’t say for sure if this is the case. But I can say that being mindful of the difference between goals and objectives, and having both for your organization make you and your nonprofit more successful. And your messaging more remarkable!

Side note: According to The Wordifer, goal is one of those words that nonprofits use too darn much in their external communications. Yet, its cousin objective isn’t nearly as prevalent. If you think about it, this makes sense. When we’re communicating our nonprofit’s purpose to the world via our website, we’ll often speak of our end goals, and not the objectives that carry us there. However, if your goal is to inspire trust in your supporters — and it should be — you might way to share your objectives as well.

September Word of the Month: Reflections on Reflect

Many of us in the nonprofit-sphere, including us here at Claxon, tend to enjoy setting aside time for reflection at the end of the year or the start of the new year.

And for good reason. Year end brings a concrete time to close out those financials, wrap up successes (and perhaps failures, too) in a pretty annual report, and figure out what you’ll do differently in the fresh start of the coming year.

We’ve been thinking about or should I say reflecting on the concept of reflection here at Claxon recently. And being the word nerds that we are, we decided to delve into the word itself to find out what we can learn and how we can tie it back to our professional and personal lives.

In this post, we’ll share what we’ve learned: how the definition of reflect has changed over time, how nonprofits are currently using it, and how YOU can use it now to set yourself up for a more impactful future.

The Origin of Reflect

The original definition of reflect, one that’s been around since the 14th century and that we still use today, is the bending of light back toward its source. In fact, the root word -flect simply means “bend”. (Catholics will recognize this from genuflect, which is a fancy way to say bending your knee in respect.)

This meaning of reflect can take many forms: the moon reflecting the sun’s light to Earth, the sky reflecting its color off the ocean, some random light reflecting off of my watch and onto the wall driving my cat crazy, etc.

Reflect is what happens when you look in a mirror. And it’s perhaps this use that caused reflect to move from a mere reflection of light to a reflection in the mind, in the second half of the 17th century.

Reflection definition #2: serious thought or consideration.

Today’s Usage & Nonprofit Usage

In recent times, we are putting even more emphasis on reflection, and my guess is that this is not the light reflection definition. The following graph, supplied by Google, shows the usage of the word “reflect” as a percentage in books from 1800 – 2008.

What caused the sharp bump in the latter half of the 20th century? Could we, as culture, be putting increased focus on reflection of the mind? Perhaps self-reflection in particular?

While I don’t know the answer to that question, I am able to see how nonprofits are using the word “reflect”, specifically on their websites. According to the Wordifier, nonprofits tend to use the word somewhat frequently. It earns a yellow light in the Wordifier’s scale:

While usage of reflect is pretty evenly distributed across the nonprofit sector, religious organizations tend to use it a bit more:

Are religious organizations reflecting more than other nonprofits? Or, are they encouraging their supporters to reflect on their own lives and beliefs? Either way, all nonprofits and their staff members have an opportunity to follow suit and challenge themselves to be more aware – reflecting on their endeavors throughout the year and not just at year end or during infrequent strategic planning sessions.

Resources for Reflection

Many resources exist to help you build the practice of reflection into your life and your work. You can also find specific ways to incorporate reflection into your nonprofit’s routine.

Here at Claxon, we’re all about remarkable messaging. We know that the words we use to talk about our nonprofits make a big difference in the results we see.

That’s why we have a few free tools for you to reflect on your language choices to raise more money and do more good.

Messaging Quiz: Is your messaging helping or hurting your nonprofit’s mission? Take this five-minute quiz and find out.

Organizational Lexicon: This nifty tool will help your nonprofit create your very own lexicon. By doing this you up the odds that you’ll use words that make you consistently stand out from the crowd.

Personal Lexicon: In this day and age, personal brand is important. The words you use are part of that brand. With this in mind, we adapted the Organizational Lexicon, so you could create a lexicon all your own!

What reflection practices do you have for your life, your work, and your communications strategy? Tweet to us @ClaxonMarketing and let us know!

August’s Word of the Month: HELP

Help is such a core part of our non-profit identity. So, how can we can possibly stop overusing this word? Read on to find out in our latest installment of Word of the Month.

“Help!” It’s what the non-profit sector is all about, right? We help the environment, we help children, we help the homeless. We ask folks to help us carry out our mission with support, donations, and volunteer hours.

With all this helping going on, I’m sure you’re not surprised to learn that according to our research, “help” is high on the charts of the most commonly-used word by non-profits. (Others include need, more, support, and please. Notice a trend?)

We also know that overused words don’t do anything for our mission. By using the same words that every other non-profit uses, our mission statements and other communications get lost in the abyss of overlooked messages.

This is why The Wordifier gives us the red light on the word “help”.

Nonetheless, many organizations continue to use this word, and use it heavily. Here are a few examples of mission statements I discovered by googling some well-known non-profits:

To help people worldwide where the need is greatest, delivering emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from health care. – Doctors Without Borders

To alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities. – Mercy Corps

To help more moms have full-term pregnancies and healthy babies. – March of Dimes

With helping being such a core part of our non-profit identity, you may wonder how we can possibly stop overusing this word and make our mission statements and other messaging more remarkable. What’s a non-profit to do?

Well, let’s start by looking back to help’s origins.

Not surprisingly, the word help dates back pretty far, stemming from the Old English helpan. At that point in time, it was exclusively a transitive verb, meaning it was required to have a direct object tied to it. For example, you couldn’t just helpan in general, you had to helpan something.

In the 13th century, this changed, and the intransitive use emerged, meaning to “offer aid or assistance”. Help moved out of the realm of an action-packed verb, and into more general, conceptual realm.

And this is my advice to non-profits: Think of help not as an action word, but as a concept. When you frame it that way, you’ll see that there are other words that will get your helping point across in a stronger way.

Luckily, The Wordifier offers alternatives to any given word that are not overused, and therefore will make your mission and messaging shine! Pay special attention to the words in green, as those are the least commonly used by non-profits. 

You’ll also notice that these words can pinpoint an exact action in a way that the generic “help” cannot. “Ease” has a much different meaning than “boost” or “amend”, yet all three can be used in place of a “help” depending on the context.

Here are a few examples of non-profits successfully replacing help with a more descriptive, yet similar word.

To defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States. – ACLU

To connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. – Kiva

To create, find and support programs that directly improve the health and wellbeing of children. – Ronald McDonald House.

Take a stab at removing help from your own communications, and share your results with us @ClaxonMarketing. I hope this post enriched your view of non-profit word choice, and will upgrade your non-profit’s future messaging!

Want to upgrade your non-profit’s messaging even more? Check out our online training through Claxon University.

July Word of the Month: Remarkable

This is the latest installment in our “Word of the Month” series to help non-profits make intentional language choices (while indulging our own word nerdery). Up this month? Remarkable.

A few months ago, we explained why we love the word remarkable so darn much. So much, in fact, that we’re happy to leave “awesome” in the dust for this striking and incredible word (that basically means striking and incredible! How about that?)

We’re guessing that you think your non-profit’s cause is pretty remarkable. Yet,1 you also likely continue to use the same stock of words, such as “awesome” and “great”. We looked to the Wordifier to show us how all of these words stack up:

The word remarkable stems from the French remarquer which means, “to take note of” or “worthy of notice”. Definitely something we all wish folks would do with our cause!

Okay, so now that we know why remarkable is so remarkable, what other words fall into this category?

Again, we turned to the Wordifier to advise us. (By the way, if you aren’t familiar with the Wordifier and why it’s a remarkable tool for choosing your non-profit’s words, check out this post). And since verbs are the superheroes of our sentences, let’s start there.

Here are a few remarkable verbs that the Wordifier gives us the green light on. I’ve bolded my personal favorites 🙂

Accelerate, activate, alleviate, anchor, broaden, collaborate, complement, confront, cultivate, deepen, defend, delight, elevate, eradicate, generate, ignite, illustrate, mobilize, motivate, nurture, rally, relieve, remedy, revitalize, shield, stabilize, steward, sustain, unite, uphold.

And here are some adjectives to spruce up your sentences:

Adept, apathetic, brilliant, colossal, deafening, diligent, disillusioned, endless, fierce, gentle, hopeful, hushed, illustrious, immense, lively, nimble, remarkable, rapid, resonant, somber, splendid, striking, swift, vigorous, zealous.

As you can probably tell from reading these words, they are not your standard, run-of-the-mills “awesomes” and “greats”. Each of these words paints a picture, gives a concrete feeling, and most importantly, are not overused by non-profits.

What are your favorite remarkable words? Tweet to us @ClaxonMarketing.

Words, Words, Words! Introducing Claxon’s “Word of the Month”

At Claxon, we embrace our word nerdery proudly. That’s because, like you, we know the importance of choosing the right words. One word can mean the difference between getting noticed and getting overlooked.

We love words so much, we create tools and resources such as The Wordifier so nonprofits can make their messaging remarkable.

We also love diving deep into a particular word to find out its history, its evolution, and its level of remarkable-ness. And we love sharing what we’ve uncovered so that you can make informed word choices for your cause.

That’s why we’re launching a Word of the Month series!

Each month, we’ll choose a word that’s commonly found in nonprofit communications, or a word we feel is underutilized by nonprofits. We’ll explain where the word comes from, how often it’s used, and what to watch for when determining whether or not to use it in your communications.

To kick off this series, we’re starting with the one word I’ve used more than any other in this post thus far. We’re getting a little silly, as well as a little meta. Have a guess?

This month’s word is “word”.

Before beginning to research the word “word”, I made the assumption that its origins would date back pretty far. As soon as we started having elements of speech to describe objects, actions, and ideas, it would follow naturally that we have a way to describe these speech elements themselves, right?

Yep. Turns out, the word “word” has been in use since basically the dawn of the English language, when “Old English” was spoken. It’s from the Proto-Germanic “wurdan”. (Don’t worry, I didn’t know what Proto-Germanic was either.)

Here’s the coolest thing I found out: In its original Old English, it also had an additional implication: a promise. There’s something beautiful, if not a bit intimidating, about a word being a promise. (Maybe this is where the phrase “as good as your word” stems from?)

There are many variations on “word” that arose much more recently. “Wordsmith”, for example, popped up in 1896, and “buzzword” came around in 1946, thought to be originated from Harvard students’ slang for the most important words in their lectures or readings.

And unlike a lot of other words whose popularity ebbs and flows over time, “word” has stayed pretty consistent in its frequency of use. No surprise there!

Even though this month’s Word of the Month is more of a playful announcement than a word your nonprofit actually needs to be conscious of, we decided to run it through The Wordifer to see what would happen.

Turns out, a majority of uses of this word are from religious organizations. This totally makes sense. (Think: “The Word of God”).

Thanks for joining us in having a bit of fun with the word “word”! Check in next month when we explore a word that can either boost your nonprofit messaging’s remarkable-ness, or bring you down to the land of the overlooked.