Martin Edwards: The peculiar art of the abbreviation

IDK but IMHO the over-proliferation of TLAs in the sector must be tackled ASAP

If you are among the 10 million people watching the BBC drama Line of Duty, you will know that the dialogue is littered with unexplained police acronyms.

Our sector is no different, and is capable of stumping even its own veterans.

As a fundraising chief executive, I often work with our philanthropy team and like to think I talk their language – but I was taken aback when they told me they had recently given out STDs to our major donors.

I have read George Smith’s Asking Properly: The Art of Creative Fundraising, and nowhere in this seminal book on donor development does it mention giving them sexually transmitted diseases.

When the team explained that they meant a 'save the date' message for a forthcoming event, I had to ask that they find another abbreviation.

More seriously, I think the use of some abbreviations fundamentally devalues their subject matter.

For example, I dislike seeing equality, diversity and inclusion abbreviated, particularly in organisations’ external communications. Calling it EDI diminishes the work and depersonalises the subject, making it sound like a project rather than about people and prejudice.

It’s a short step from sounding like just another project to people treating it as such.

If we are to achieve a fair and inclusive society, where everyone can thrive according to the content of their character, we don’t need sterile business-speak. We need passion, challenge and innovation.

It can be a different matter with charity names. Some abbreviations become invaluable brands, like the NSPCC or RSPCA.

RNID rebranded to Action on Hearing Loss a decade ago, but last year reverted to RNID because of its enduring public renown.

WWF knew the value of its brand, retaining it after morphing from the World Wildlife Fund to the World Wide Fund for Nature (to reflect preservation of habitats, not just species). It also defended it against use by the World Wrestling Federation: in court, the panda pinned the wrestlers, who rebranded to WWE – World Wrestling Entertainment.

In the age of search engines, some acronym brands became problematic. Chicks, the charity name referring to Country Holidays for Inner City Kids, rebranded to Go Beyond.

This was, in part, because Chicks had become, as the charity discreetly put it, “a challenging name to manage online”.

The NHS is probably the worst over-user of acronyms, often unexplained to external contacts like me.

During a discussion about NHS CCGs, ICSs, MCNs, CHC and PHBs*, one of our trustees said there were too many TLAs.

TLAs, I asked? Three letter acronyms.

*Clinical commissioning groups, integrated care systems, managed clinical networks, continuing healthcare, personal health budgets. Do try to keep up.

Martin Edwards is CEO (sorry) of Julia’s House children’s hospice

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