The Days of “Innovation” are Fading (I Hope)

Author: Cedric Richner, CFRE

A relative-in-law of mine, Anne Curzan, Professor of English, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and Associate Dean for Humanities at the University of Michigan, is also the resident linguist for NPR’s Michigan Radio. Recently, during the show Stateside, she was asked to comment on the word “innovation.”

In the common parlance of today’s business-speak, the word “innovation” is near the top of the list of the most frequently overused words. In her commentary, Anne points out that words tend to lose their clout through repeated use and “innovation” might be falling victim to that fate.

Having reviewed and edited hundreds of case statements for fundraising purposes over the years, I agree that the word “innovation” is used too frequently – to a degree that it is becoming increasingly meaningless.


In our practice consulting with nonprofit organizations regarding their fundraising strategy, “unique,” too, has become tired. Still, it is vitally important to convey uniqueness without actually using the word. Fundraising for a nonprofit organization is most effective when its mission is one of a kind, differentiating it from other organizations competing for donors. Mission redundancy is a common complaint from prospective donors, particularly regarding organizations operating in the same geographic region.

To the extent that you can truthfully say that your mission stands alone among nonprofit organizations or that you deliver services in a distinct way, fundraising will be easier.

Let’s save the word “innovation” for when we are bringing something truly special to the marketplace and jettison “unique.” At least let’s use those words sparingly for occasions when we are rolling out something potentially “disruptive,” which is a word I like even less.