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Terminology in any specialism can be confusing to the newcomer or those on the edge of the subject. The definitions here are intended to give insight rather than be the last word. Words in italics (unless titles of books) indicate that this is another entry in the glossary, bold indicates a related term.

Context: Words can have meanings specific to a context – for instance those working in local regeneration may have a different understanding of the boundaries of the voluntary sector from someone at a major national charity. This can be the cause of many crossed wires!

Abbreviations: elsewhere we use some acronyms for organisations, in particular umbrella bodies, without further explanation. See Support bodies page for info on NCVO, SCVO, ACEVO ….

Terms and Jargon

Accidental techie

Someone who doesn’t have any background in IT, database systems etc, but due to limited resources has ended up with the responsibility. Very common in small to medium size voluntary organisations.


Asset-Based Community Development. Nurture Development website says: ABCD demonstrates that local assets (people, physical assets etc.) and individual strengths are key to ensure sustainable community development, and that people have a life of their own choosing.

Area of Concern

This is VolResource’s own term, meaning the issues or field of activity in which a voluntary organisation is engaged.


Anyone who might benefit from the activity of a charity. Could, for instance, be receiving advice, care, financial support. One type of stakeholder.


Black and Minority Ethnic.

Capacity Building

Often taken to mean anything which will increase the capacity of the voluntary sector to provide services or take action, but also can be restricted to e.g. providing training in financial management and organisational issues, especially at a community level. See Sector Development page. Some varying definitions:
– “Skilling individuals to deliver services, to influence policy and to work inside organisations to meet the needs of their communities.” From research quoted in Voluntary Organisations and Social Policy.
– “The ability of nonprofit organisations to fulfil their missions in an effective manner”. Urban Institute (US) Building Capacity in Nonprofit Organizations.
– Is about ensuring that organisations have the skills, knowledge, structures and resources to realise their full potential. Hackney CVS.


Community Based Organisation. Appears more in international contexts.

Charity, charitable organisation

This is sometimes used as an alternative to ‘voluntary organisation’, but is probably more generally meant to cover just those bodies registered with the Charity Commission (in England and Wales), OSCR (Scotland) or Charity Commission NI. See Registration page. It may also include ‘excepted’ charities which are not obliged to register, such as those with annual income of £1,000 or less (unless they have permanent endowment or the use or occupation of land), some religious and armed forces charities. Also a third category of exempt charity, which cannot register, and includes many state schools, universities, some industrial and provident societies, and a number of national museums.

Civil Society

Increasingly being used in international discussions in place of NGO, distinguishing society interests from political or business perspectives. Hence Civil Society Organisation (CSO). Michael Edwards has proposed three dimensions to the term Civil Society – as associational life, as the good society and as arenas for public deliberation.

Communities of interest

Groups where members have common needs or characteristics (such as ethnic origin, disability, interest in open source software) as opposed to geographical communities (communities of place).

Community anchor

Multi-purpose, independent community-led organisations taking the long view. (See Locality website.)

Community Development

As defined by Northern Ireland Compact, Dec 98: a collective process whereby members of a community come together to effect change and to address the needs within the community based on principles of self help and inclusion. The Welsh Assembly Scheme (Sept 00) recognises it as ‘people working together, on issues they identify, to bring about change through collective action’.

CIC, Community Interest Company

A way social enterprises can register to become limited companies while meeting particular concerns such as protecting assets for community use. See Registering as a charity or company. NB: CICS – Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

CIO, also SCIO

(Scottish) Charitable Incorporated Organisation. A way to be registered as a company and a charity in one go. See Registering as a charity or company.

Community sector

Those organisations active on a local or community level, usually small, modestly funded and largely dependent on voluntary, rather than paid, effort. Can be seen as distinct from the larger, professionally staffed agencies which are most visible in voluntary sector profiles. Hence the phrase voluntary and community sector (VCS) to encompass the full range.


An understanding between government (national or local) and the voluntary sector (in the guise of its representative bodies or via wider consultation) on how relations between the two should be conducted (e.g. funding doesn’t prevent organisations from expressing views on policies). See Sector Development/Policy for links to national agreements.


There are various types of co-ops, including employee-based (worker co-ops), consumer based (retail/high street co-ops), and housing co-ops made up of tenants/joint owners. Usually seen as a part of the Social Economy, and almost by definition count as social enterprises (although the big Co-op retail societies can appear remote).


Continuous Professional Development. Some training courses are recognised as contributing to requirements laid down for professions such as lawyers, accountants to undertake a certain number of hours updating their knowledge.


Council for Voluntary Service. Could also be a VSC or CVO, and xyz Community/Voluntary Action is generally equivalent. The co-ordinating and support body for voluntary and community organisations in a geographic area, although actual structure and facilities vary immensely across the country. A Local Infrastructure Organisation (LIO).

Drain guidelines

Common name for ‘Guidelines for relations between volunteers and paid workers in the Health and Personal Social Services’, particularly relevant where trade unions are involved in a service delivery setting. May still be somewhere on Volunteering England website.


Directory of Social Change (the name is no longer that meaningful). An independent charity providing training and information (publications) for the voluntary sector. Offices in Liverpool and London – see relevant pages for contacts.


European Regional Development Fund.


European Social Fund. A source of funding for various projects within ‘deprived areas’.

Exempt charity

See Charity.


Freedom of Information. Important legislation for campaigning groups and some others to get material about decisions or research undertaken by a wide range of public bodies. See Lobbying page.

Foss, or Floss

Free (libre) open source software. See our software intro for a little more.

Hawthorne Effect

A fairly frequent term in American non-profit management: the presence of researchers affecting the outcome of the study (into productivity).


An approach promoted by government’s ChangeUp capacity building/infrastructure framework, which ran to March 2008 – the development of hubs of expertise (and facilities), locally regionally or nationally, to support the sector. Some may still operate, if under a slightly different identity.


Information, Advice and Guidance, typically describing a service provided for some social grouping such as youth, elderly, refugees.


Information and Communication Technology (..ies).


International Classification of Nonprofit Organizations. See Taxonomy page.


Usually used in context of umbrella bodies, in reference to support to voluntary organisations. Infrastructure can operateat local, regional and/or national levels, and can be generic or sub-sectoral (cocnentrating on a particular part of the voluntary sector, such as childcare). Such support can also come from organisations outside the voluntary sector, such as local authorities , Business Link, funders, private sector training. See Sector Development page.


Local Area Agreement(s). To quote I&DEA LAAs “are made between central and local government in a local area. Their aim is to achieve local solutions that meet local needs, while also contributing to national priorities and the achievement of standards set by central government.” At summer 2005, there are just a few areas with them in place, but they are planned to expand. There is a danger that if voluntary organisations aren’t involved from the start that they will be marginalised, both in influencing and undertaking service delivery. See Working Relations.


Local Exchange Trading Systems or Schemes “local community-based mutual aid networks in which people exchange all kinds of goods and services with one another, without the need for money”.


Local Infrastructure Organisation – see Umbrella body.


Learning and Skills Council – agency closed at 2010.


Local Strategic Partnership. See Working Relations page.

Match funding

A requirement by funding agencies that any contributions they make towards programme or project costs should be matched by other funders, or by the applicants from their own resources. Some may allow in-kind contributions (e.g. the value of volunteer time) to count.

Mem and Arts

Memorandum and Articles of Association. The two parts to a company’s constitution. See Registration page.


Non Governmental Organisation. Usually equivalent to voluntary organisation; most often used in an international, development or environment setting. Also spotted BINGO – Business Initiated NGO!

Non-profit (NP)

The usual term for a voluntary organisation in the US – this often includes some groups we would see as on the edge of the sector in the UK.

Office for Civil Society

Part of the UK government’s Cabinet Office, with overview of charity issues.


Covers a wide range of possible relations. Welsh Assembly Scheme (Sept 00) helpfully describes different levels of partnership with a voluntary organisation as (increasing in involvement): Supporter, Agent, Adviser, Junior Membership, Joint Ownership, Community Ownership.

Patient capital

Long-term financial investment with greater flexibility in terms than usual, often used in connection with social enterprise. E.g. funds offered at low interest rates, interest-free loans, repayment (partly) through in-kind services or other non-standard arrangements.


Payment by results. In America they seem to use PFS – pay for success.

Peak (or apex) body

In Australia, an association of industries or groups; in this sector generally what we would term a support or umbrella organisation.

Pro bono

Providing (professional) services for free to good causes, on a regular or one-off basis.


Quasi-autonomous non governmental organisation. Bodies set up by government with a specific remit and their own governing body, although usually with appointments made by or via the government. Some may be registered charities, but tend not to viewed as part of the voluntary sector.


Refugee and migrant community organisation.


Registered Social Landlord, which largely equates with housing association, OR Restricted Service Licence, temporary permission for (community) radio stations to broadcast for a limited period or restricted by locality e.g. hospital or student radio stations (see Community Media Association).


Usually Search Engine Optimisation – making sure a website gets the best placing on from searches on Google etc. Could also be Social Enterprise Organisation.

Service Level Agreement (SLA)

A type of contract where (typically) a public body agrees to pay a set sum of money in return for a specified level of service, which may be quantified in terms like ‘number of clients advised’ in a given period, and to what standard. Charities may also have SLAs with their suppliers, such as around support of ICT, database systems. Complexity and issues dealt with will vary immensely depending on context. See Contracts on the Working Relations page.

Social Capital

Made up of networks, trust (shared values?) and civic institutions, according to Digital Futures. Contributes to economic and social development (OECD, 1998).

Social Economy

Usually encompasses any activity involving provision of services or goods in a commercial manner but to meet non-commercial objectives, such as area regeneration, community development, co-operative working. Can be seen as the same as Social Enterprise, although another view is that the latter is just one of three predominant forms of economic activity in the social economy, the others being self-help and altruism (which then implies that the social economy encompasses much of the voluntary and community sector).

See our Social Economy page for more.

Social Entrepreneur

“A different kind of social leader who identifies and applies practical solutions to social problems by combining innovation, resourcefulness and opportunity.” Schwab Foundation via Dr. Trilok Kumarjain

Social marketing

Using marketing and other techniques to achieve specific behavioural goals, for a social good, according to National Social Marketing Centre.

SORP, charity SORP

Statement of Recommended Practice. The accounting standard to which registered charities in England and Wales should conform – also recommended practice in Scotland and Northern Ireland. See Finance Resources, or Charity Commission website for how to obtain a copy.


In sector terms, this usually refers to anybody who has an interest in the work of an organisation: member, volunteer, staff, management, board member, funder or contracting body, client, ‘community of interest’ such as locality or grouping of people who might benefit (beneficiaries). See Working Relations page.


Tenants and Residents Association. See Issues: Housing page.

Third Sector

See Voluntary Sector, although sometimes used specifically in relation to Co-operatives or Social Enterprises. TSO – Third Sector Organisation.


See our Governance page. A member of the governing body of a charity (or pension fund or other position where resources are held in trust). The board of trustees could also be known as management committee, board of directors (if also a limited company).

Umbrella body

An organisation which supports others operating in a particular area (geographic, activity or function). Often, but not always, the supported organisations are members of the umbrella. Also known as second tier, intermediary or infrastructure organisation. Also see peak/apex body. Start at Professional Bodies page to locate.


Voluntary, Community and Faith Sector. Yikes, another variation on the theme (see below).


Voluntary and community organisations – see Voluntary sector.


Someone working for an organisation without expectation of payment, beyond re-imbursement of expenses. Can include members of the management committee/board, although when the term is used by staff it usually doesn’t. See Volunteer Management page.

Further definitions of volunteering:

From Compact code on Volunteering, via Greater London Volunteering “any activity which involves spending time, unpaid, doing something which aims to benefit someone (individuals or groups) other than or in addition to close relatives, or to benefit the environment.”

From Scottish Executive Volunteering Strategy 2004:

Formal Volunteering: Volunteering is the giving of time and energy through a third party, which can bring measurable benefits to the volunteer, individual beneficiaries, groups and organisations, communities, environment and society at large. It is a choice undertaken of one’s own free will, and is not motivated primarily for financial gain or for a wage or salary.

Informal Volunteering: Informal volunteering, which can be one component of social capital, refers to a wide range of different kinds of mutual help and co-operation between individuals within communities, for example babysitting for a friend or checking on an elderly neighbour.

Voluntary Sector

There are many definitions and refinements of this term, with often a wide and a tight/core version. One approach is by reference to what the other sectors cover e.g. private/commercial, state/public and informal (family, friends) – what is left is voluntary! That gives the derivation of the term ‘third sector’ too (the informal tending to be ignored). Another issue in defining the sector is that although many feel voluntary organisations are distinctly different from private and public ones, the boundaries actually are unclear – for example where would you put universities? It is more of a continuum than a set of discrete boxes.

A definition used by SCVO states that a voluntary organisation is: non-profit distributing, non-statutory, autonomous, may be charitable. Also see Community Sector re Voluntary and community organisation.

Hence VSO – Voluntary sector organisation (only seen in government documents) – more usually taken to mean Voluntary Service Overseas.


Voluntary Welfare Organisation. Term used elsewhere in the world (Asia?).


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