Language & Research Tips for Planned Giving Officers | Sharpe Group blog
Posted September 17th, 2020

Language & Research Tips for Planned Giving Officers


If you’re a PG (planned giving) officer, you work on situations involving older individuals. Typically, individuals north of age 70. These individuals are, for the most part, what I call “traditionalists.” In particular, most of them were educated in the traditional use of the English language.

In traditional use, one does not write, for example: “A student was barred from class because they didn’t have a mask.”

“A student” is singular. “They” is plural. Modern Deacons of Discourse say this way of writing is acceptable. It isn’t acceptable when writing for traditionalists.

Also note the misuse of words, which grates on some traditionalists, including me. In particular, the words “verbal” and “verbally” are widely misused. “Verbal” means both spoken and written. It does not only mean spoken. If you mean to write that someone, for example, can get spoken approval, write “spoken.”

IMO, every good-sized PG program should have a copy editor. If I were running such a program, my copy editor would be a retired 70-to-75-year-old high school English teacher.


It’s often necessary for a PG officer to do research. A common type of research is to find out how “peer institutions” do something.

IMO, such research is a big mistake and a big waste of time.

I’m often asked, for example, “How do other schools do this?” My response is always, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” Why this response? Because I’ve learned that highly respected charities can and do have badly flawed practices. My concern, always, is that my clients do things the right way. The right way isn’t to follow the crowd or follow the leader. The right way is to follow sound advice.

And BTW, beware of opinions posted on the internet. Opinions posted on the internet often masquerade as the law. Anyone’s opinion—mine or anyone else’s—is just that. An opinion. Even expert opinions are sometimes flawed. I like to ground my thinking in the facts. Opinions, I’ve learned, are often fuzzy on the pertinent facts.

By Jon Tidd

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