Your Organization Needs a What We Do Say/What We Don’t Say Lexicon


No one likes the word police—and no one wants to be that person on your team either, cutting a coworker off to admonish, “We don’t use that term here.” And yet, finding the ideal language is incredibly important to being inclusive and effective in your work.

There’s a big difference between calling a person a “survivor” or a “victim,” using “people we serve” versus “clients,” or describing someone as “underpaid” rather than “impoverished.”

Organizations can empower everyone with the language to discuss the important stuff by establishing an agreed-upon Lexicon (a list of “What We Say”/”What We Don’t Say”). This resource can guide everyone from employees to stakeholders to volunteers to us — brand consultants — on the language that guides your approach to an issue.

Terminology is evolving quickly. Just when you feel like you’ve nailed it, someone who has more experience or lived experience might push back on your phrasing. We say, embrace the pushback. When it comes down to it, those most impacted by the terminology should have the biggest say in deciding the words we use.

Ultimately, the goal isn’t perfection. It’s progress.

By remaining open to change, we can collectively move towards a more inclusive, accurate, and kind lexicon — reflective of the very world we hope to create.

Bill Cummings

Bill is a seasoned nonprofit founder, leader, marketer, fundraiser, and storyteller. He is the founder and former executive director of Lemonade International and has served in leadership positions with Zoe Empowers and Restore NYC. He works with clients on organizational strategy, branding, fundraising, and communications.