How to Use the Marketplace

Test the value of your words. Type your word into the box on our homepage, and see if it made the list of most common nonprofit words. If it appears on the list, think critically if it’s a word your organization should use. Just because it’s on the list doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it, but you should consider all your options to make sure it’s the best.

Review the lists. Explore the full results from the The Marketplace of Words research. You’ll get a good idea of which words nonprofits are overusing, and how many nonprofits are overusing them.

Find your own words. Nonprofit communications expert Erica Mills created this handy Organizational Lexicon tool. Fill it out with The Marketplace of Words by your side. Before you know it, you’ll have unique, specific and easy to understand words to describe your organization and explain your cause. For suggestions on choosing your words, read our tips section below.

Read the full research discussion. Feeling ambitious? Have some time to kill? Read the full report on The Marketplace of Words, created by Seattle University Master of Nonprofit Leadership student Tessa Srebro. Learn how the research was carried out, and see full recommendations on using the results.


Focus on verbs. Some nouns nonprofits simply need to use. Board, school and art may be necessary, depending on the nature of your organization. Adjectives and adverbs should be looked at closely, but the most important part of your sentence is your verb. I know your amazing organization does more than give, work, or provide. Show the world what that is!

Relax your language. We’re often taught that formal language should be used to convey professionalism. And we were taught wrong. Laid-back language will connect with most (if not all) audiences. Ask yourself: Would I say this out loud in casual conversation? If the answer is no, rethink your word choices. Write like you speak.

Get specific. What do you actually mean when you say community? How big is it and who is a part of it? There are so many methods of outreach; which are you referring to? If questions like this can be asked, chances are you’re using words that aren’t specific enough. Just because you know exactly which community you mean, don’t expect that your audience will.

Talk about your audience. Based on the pronouns nonprofits use, it’s clear they’re talking about themselves too much. (Nonprofit use we and our nearly 20% more often than you and your! We do this at our organization. Try involving your audience with some yous. Because without support from outside your organization, your organization wouldn’t exist.