Geri Stengel

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Defining Words Used by the Socially Conscious

I’m issuing a challenge: define some of the phrases used by the socially conscious. My aim is to to help crystallize your thinking about the essence of making a social impact and your role in it. This is the first in five part series.

As you know, I am interested in those enterprises, both non profit and for-profit, that do good while doing well: small businesses and non profits that contribute to the betterment of their communities and the world.

Who should we include in that category and why does it matter?

No Easy Definitions
social change, social enterprise, social responsibility, corporate social responsibilityWe all know what a non profit organization is. Well, we sort of know. It is a business that provides a service to the community and doesn't make a profit. It does not distribute extra money to shareholders or owners. Sometimes a non profit is staffed by volunteers; others have paid, professional staff.

Does that mean it doesn't have any surplus at the end of the year? No, even non profits have to plan ahead and save for the future.

If the staff is well-paid, does that sully its non profit credentials? My answer is a resounding “No!” Social responsibility begins at home, which means employees of non profits should be paid a fair wage, with good benefits.

But not all funders agree. Many refuse to fund reasonable operating expenses, forcing non profits to underpay their long-suffering staffs. It's as if the staff must prove the worthiness of their cause by their own sacrifice in order to qualify as a non profit.

So you see, even this apparently simple concept, “non profit organization” has some gray areas where, when you get down to the nitty-gritty, agreement is not so easy.

Why Do Definitions Matter?
It gets harder when you start talking about social responsibility and social change. But it's important because those who want to make a difference in the world need to build a community within which they can cooperate and help each other.

I cannot stress this enough! As I said in We Can All Use a Little Support Now and Then, it's easier to get the job done – whether the job is making a profit or making a difference – if you can learn from the experience of others and brainstorm with people facing the same problems. You know that yourself, as shown by the results of our Ventureneer survey.

So in the interest of building community, let's take a hard look at:

As you have already found out from my previous blogs, this isn't easy; it'll makes you think and, maybe, give you some new ideas about your goals, the path you'll take to reach them, and who you want to travel with on your road to success.

Are there other terms related to social responsibility that we should define? Is it better to make definitions more inclusive or less?