Leverage,* noun 1. the exertion of force by means of a lever or an object used in the manner of a lever. 2. the ratio of a company’s loan capital (debt) to the value of its common stock (equity). 3. A television show on FX starring Timothy Hutton. Verb 1. use borrowed capital for (an investment), expecting the profits made to be greater than the interest payable. 2. use (something) to maximum advantage. (Definition courtesy of Wikipedia except for the bit about Timothy Hutton.)
*In full disclosure, I hate the word “leverage” with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns, and I have not seen a single episode of Leverage the TV show. Now that’s off my chest, let’s proceed.
Take a minute to absorb these definitions. One refers to a basic type of machine that we all learned about in fourth grade science class. A lever is something cave people used to move rocks up a hill. It’s something the bad guys pull in action movies to blow up buildings. Not a great metaphor for nonprofits, folks.
Two of these five definitions refer to money, specifically turning money into more money. While business rhetoric sometimes helps us think through aspects of nonprofits, we should resist borrowing buzz words from the business world just because we think they sound impressive. (Do not get me started on all the “synergizing” of the mid-2000s. It still turns my stomach.)
So, this just leaves the fourth definition: “use (something) to maximum advantage.” Ok. So, that’s not horrible. It’s just really, really vague and un-creative. Why use one word to describe virtually every type of relationship possible in nonprofits? A social media presence is being leveraged for neighborhood buy-in. Neighborhood buy-in is leveraging volunteer hours. Volunteer hours are being leveraged for Federal grants. Federal grants are being leveraged for corporate sponsorships. Corporate sponsorships are being leveraged for individual donations. And so on to infinity until the snake eats its own tail.
I do not understand what “leverage” means half the time. When I see this word, I automatically assume that the author just did not have time to properly articulate the relationship between X and Y. I roll my eyes as far as they will go back in my head and ask: How are the two things you said actually related? Has a foundation said that they will give you a $10,000 grant if you raise $5,000 in private donations? Then say that. Are you applying for a large Federal grant and you want to show that you have a lot of neighborhood support by the number of “likes” on your Facebook page? Then say that. Are you trying to show new clients that people like them are using your services? Then say that!
The only time I want to hear the word “leverage” again is if someone is telling me that I should binge watch the TV show. Speaking of which, is it any good?