Talking the Talk: A Social Entrepreneur’s Glossary

Like in any field, nonprofits have their own language that helps them define who they are and what they do.  As a newcomer, it can be hard to understand the nonprofit vernacular, but there’s no need to cue the horrifying flashbacks to sixth grade English vocabulary lists.  In this article, we’ll get you started with some of the words that leading nonprofits use to describe their work. 

Cross-functional: Spanning various specialized areas of focus within an organization.  For example, having job responsibilities that include managing programs, people and finances.

Data-driven: Taking factual, measurable points and using them to focus programs, missions and future development.  Being data-driven is one of the most important building blocks of a results-oriented, outcomes-based organization.

Development: The staff positions responsible for all aspects of fundraising, including pursuing and obtaining funds from foundations, corporations, individuals, and government sources through activities such as grant-writing, annual appeals, events and strategic campaigns.

Dynamic
: The state of being fluid and open to constant change. Dynamic organizations are able to quickly respond to opportunities and remain flexible in response to rapidly changing realities.

Executive Director: Generally, the most senior executive leader in an organization.  This title can be interchangeable with CEO or President and sometimes includes a combination of these titles.  This person generally has wide-ranging responsibilities including fundraising, strategic planning, financial operations, and program management. 

Fast-paced: Although sometimes a relative term based on an organization’s subjective definition, in general it refers to an organization that works as quickly as possible to leverage all opportunities presented to it, often being highly responsive to their donors and constituents. 

Foundation: Generally a grant-making organization focused on serving the common welfare.  It is worth noting, however, that some organizations use the term “foundation” in their name even though they do not engage in the grant-making process.

Gap: An observed disparity between groups of people that are defined by factors such as gender, race, ethnicity, ability, or socioeconomic status.  For example, academic performance gap, developmental variance or digital divide.

Mission statement
: A statement that describes an organization’s fundamental purpose and reason for being.  Many organizations will also include descriptions of the populations they serve, the nature of their programming, and their guiding values.  In comparison, a vision statement is an articulation of what the ideal future will look like when an organization has fulfilled its mission.

Mission-driven
: Propelled and focused by the idea that every activity is guided by or follows logically from the organization’s mission.

Nonprofit finance & accounting: Although similar in many regards to the private sector, the focus and rules of nonprofit finance and accounting are somewhat distinct.  This includes different rules and regulations about where revenue comes from and specific restrictions placed on how it can be used.  For a more in depth discussion visit: http://www.allianceonline.org/FAQ/financial_management/what_are_differences.faq

Nonprofit: An organization operated for the public benefit that has been designated by the IRS as exempt from certain forms of taxation.  It belongs to the social sector or third sector, because it is not part of government (public sector) or business (private sector).  The term is generally interchangeable with non-profit and not-for-profit, despite sector debate about the nuances of the terms.  For more discussion visit: http://www.idealist.org/if/idealist/en/FAQ/QuestionViewer/default?section=01&item=09

Operations
: In general, this refers to the activities of an organization used for the regular and continued ability to provide its service or to work toward its goal.  This can include general administrative tasks, human resources, and project management.

Organizational capacity: The ability for a group to perform or produce a desired output.  Capacity is built when an organization increases the number of people on its team, the skills that those people possess, the financial resources available for strategic investments, and the efficiencies and capabilities of its systems and infrastructure.

Organizational culture
: The essential nature and overall “feel” of an organization and its team.  Culture can be determined and shaped by many factors, including leadership styles, demographics of team members, physical work environments, languages, procedures, routines, underlying assumptions, expectations, and definitions of success.

Social enterprise
: A venture whose ultimate purpose is social good and advances and supports its social mission through a revenue generating mechanism guided by entrepreneurial principles.

Social entrepreneur
: A person who recognizes a social probli and uses innovative, entrepreneurial methods to create, manage and measure a venture for social change.

Strategic plan: A forward-looking and ongoing process of organizational planning based on trends and analysis of internal and external data.  This work plan helps to lead an organization to fulfill its mission and vision more effectively. 

Sustainable: The ability for an organization to be viable in the future and to continue to be able to provide its services in the most effective way.

Venture philanthropy: The practice in which donors use principles usually associated with venture capitalists to improve the performance of a nonprofit organization or social enterprise. This generally involves providing a combination of funding and expertise, engaging directly with the nonprofit leadership, committing to long-term funding relationships, and monitoring performance. 

Learn More

The nonprofit vocabulary is an important tool to have when looking to get into the sector.  Look to see how your favorite organizations use these terms and keep them in mind when reading nonprofit job descriptions.  You’ll be speaking the language of nonprofits like a professional in no time.  If you want more detail on these and other terms, please visit:

 

 


This article was written by Commongood Careers and is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

For more information about nonprofit and socially entrepreneurial careers, visit Commongood Careers at http://www.commongoodcareers.org