While many terms associated with Social Innovation and the NonProfit and Charitable sector might seem self-explanatory, it is sometimes helpful to provide a more precise framework to assist in understanding this evolving discipline. The field is further complicated by the fact that some terms might have a wide range of definitions. In this situation, I will choose to highlight the consensus or emerging definition — recognizing that this may be somewhat subjective.


B Corporation

This is a system to allow Social Ventures to declare and certify how they "use the power of business to solve social  and environmental problems". Set up and run by B Lab, you can find out more at the B Corporation (or B Corp) website.

Capacity Building

Is the act of building or strengthening Organizational Capacity.


A hybrid neologism, combining celebrity and philanthropy, popularized by the book Philanthrocapitalsm. Some notable examples of Celanthropists include:
  • Bono
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Peter Gabriel
While mostly associated with entertainers, business people like Bill Gates and Richard Branson have the fame to qualify as global celebrities. Celanthropists have been criticized for a superficial or simplistic approach to major social issues, yet the above individuals are leading the way to dispel that notion. In the context of Social Innovation, the growth of celanthropy parallels the new-found focus on sophisticated marketing in the Social Sector.


A person who drives Social Innovation, by inventing, mentoring and sharing "game changing" ideas that can be implemented. Often interchangeable with Social Entrepreneur, this concept is often associated by the web-based social innovation nonprofit Ashoka.

Crowd Funding

A specialized form of Crowdsourcing, it uses the "wisdom of the crowd" to to achieve social ends, and most specifically to fund them. By harnessing web and social technologies, a larger funding budget can be broken down into smaller amounts easily funded by many individuals.


Refers to harnessing web and internet connectivity to solve problems and produce solutions using the crowd. In the realm of Social Innovation, refers to solving (see also Crowd Funding) social or environmental issues.

Giving 2.0

In recent years, the term giving has become more popular than philanthropy. Driven by societal changes, the Social Innovation movement has also morphed into Giving 2.0, in particular popularized by Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen's 2011 book Giving 2.0. This is a comprehensive and eminently practical compendium of the most innovative, as well as time tested, strategies for giving.

Giving Circle

Analogous to a mutual fund or a venture capital fund in the private sector, a Giving Circle allows individuals to pool their resources to make grants (investments) in charities and nonprofits. By pooling funds as well as expertise, the donor members of the Giving Circle typically experience more engagement with the charitable organization and awareness of the issues it addresses.


is the process by which decisions are made. In charitable organizations, this often involves the relationship between Board, Members and Management/Staff. In recent years, good governance has moved from "nice to have" to essential for support of external stakeholders, such as granting agencies.


Giving of funds for a specific purpose - typically when a charity or nonprofit receives funding based on a specific request.

Impact Investing

Refers to investments which are evaluated on social or environmental impacts and not just the traditional financial return. This could be used in for profit businesses seeking greater Corporate Social Responsibility, in Social Ventures or as an alternative to the granting model for charities and nonprofits.


An approach to funding for charities, nonprofits and Social Ventures in which detailed attention is made to the social and environmental impacts (returns), often combined with the financial return, are a key part of the funding criteria and approach.


Is the provision of financial services, often specifically loans, to low income populations that typically cannot access traditional financial services organizations. With Microfinance loans, a small amount of money can enable low income individuals to become economically self sufficient through starting their own business.

Mission Creep

Is the expansion of activities beyond a pre-defined Mission that can lead to lack of focus and poor results. In a Nonprofit, this can be the result of a Donor pushing the organization outside of its current Mission or Strategic Plan (see Theory of Change), even though that diversion of focus may not be in the best interests of the organization.

Mission Related Investing

is a form of Social Finance  in which assets, typically of a Foundation or other Charitable organization, are invested to make a social return as well as a financial return. The name reflects the alignment of the investment with the social Mission of the Foundation and is also known as Impact Investing, Aligned Capital or Mission-Driven Investing.

Organizational Capacity

Represents the key factors that enable a charitable organization to achieve its objectives. Typically, such items as:
  • capital (funding),
  • human capital,
  • physical infrastructure (buildings or other required assets),
  • IT systems
are elements of Organizational Capacity. A key element of Social Innovation is the notion of Capacity Building, in other words strengthening the key elements that can lead to an organization's ability to achieve success.


This is a general trend in which Philanthropy increasingly comes to resemble for profit market-based business. Also known as The New Philanthropy, these principles were first outlined in a special section of The EconomistThe Birth of Philanthrocapitalism and in the 2008 book Philanthrocapitalism.


Originally from the Greek "love of humanity", today refers to initiatives by private individuals for the public good. The emphasis is on individuals "doing good", hence governments have social security and other good works programs, and corporations typically engage in "Corporate Social Responsibility".

Social 2.0

Mirroring the transformative use of technology of consumer-oriented Web 2.0 and business-oriented Enterprise 2.0, the notion of Social 2.0 (or Social Enterprise 2.0) harnesses the latest generation of web, mobile and social media technologies to transform the ability of Social Enterprises to achieve their goals.

Social Enterprise

This is an organization that uses business approaches (see Social Entrepreneur) to achieve societal change. This is a fairly broad term that spans the Social Sector spectrum from for profit Social Ventures to Charities and Nonprofits. See Canadian Task Force on Social Finance report for policy recommendations proposing the creation hybrid organizational structures.

Social Entrepreneur

Is a person who applies Entrepreneurial principles, including:
  • market-based principles,
  • a sustainable business model, that is less dependent on grants and other charitable funding,
  • innovative strategies, business models, delivery mechanisms, etc. often borrowed from the private sector to effect social, environmental or other changes for the good of society.
The current rise of the Social Entrepreneur seems to parallel the Entrepreneurial knowledge based start up companies that are transforming the global business landscape.

Social Finance

This is both a style of investment, and a funding source for projects that advance social good, in which a social and/or environmental return is provided along with a financial return.

Social Innovation

The term is a label that refers to new strategies, ideas and organizations that meet social needs of all kinds that extend and strengthen civil society. It is a broad, catch-all term that encompasses things like Social Finance, Mission Related Investing, Social Ventures but also much more.

Social Sector

Is the term for the broad range of organizations that focus primarily on a Social Mission aimed at improving a social or environmental issue, and include:
To give a sense of the breadth of the Social Sector, it includes organizations working in the following areas:
  • Arts, Culture and Heritage,
  • Education and Literacy,
  • Environment,
  • Healthcare,
  • Social services,
  • Youth and children's issues.

Social Venture

This is typically a for profit organization that asserts a social mission to make social or environmental change above the normal economic goals of profitability.  Some notable examples are: There is a movement for Social Ventures to formal declare themselves to be a B Corporation.

Strategic Philanthropy

An approach to Philanthropy characterized by principles that include:
  • articulation of clear goals,
  • having a clear strategy to achieve those goals,
  • long term measurement of results, and
  • sharing those results with others.
As a result Strategic Philanthropy, can in many cases be a key vector and catalyst of Social Innovation.

Theory of Change

Often the roadmap for Social Innovation, Theory of Change is the Social Enterprise equivalent for Strategy in a for profit business. Through detailed planning and deliberation, a roadmap containg all the "building blocks" required to bring about a social or environmental change as well as a blueprint for measuring success can be assembled for a Social Enterprise.

Venture Philanthropy

Inspired by the approach of Venture Capital, and often created by technology Entrepreneurs familiar with Venture Capital, Venture Philanthropy uses concepts from Venture Capital and high technology start up management techniques such as:
  • a focus on measurable results and benchmarks,
  • a strong willingness to experiment and pivot when change is needed,
  • achieving goals by combining financial resources and human capital,
  • a focus on building Organizational Capacity,
  • high involvement with Donors (Investors) in Grantees (Investee organizations), and
  • multi-year approaches with a constant view to an Exit Strategy.
to facilitate and accelerate social or environmental change. Some example Venture Philanthropy organizations include: