The re-defining of the sector seems to be in the air… again… I just received an email from an old colleague at Ashoka; in it, her tagline read: "Ashoka is a citizen sector organization (CSO), not a non-profit: Defined by what we are, rather than by what we are not. Learn more at www.ashoka.org/citizensector."
I like defining yourself by what you are rather than what you are not. But in my experience, definition of the sector has been some what of a turf war. The "social enterprise" folks argued that the "social entrepreneur" folks should change their taxonomy because there was no money making involved, i.e. no enterprise. I like your dictionary definition which is for sure broader, but a few groups have already laid out stake in that ground and its a tedious debate to dig into.
Personally, I’ve always liked the concept of social capital — unlike profit, it relates equally to financial and human assets.
Though again, I’m not sure it matters all that much — factions have been trying to redefine the sector regularly for the last 20 years. Some of us simply define our community promise in what we do and how we account for it rather than what we call ourselves.
And reader Michael Vitali suggests:
How about Social Investment Organizations?
Vaccines, education, etc., (to use Gaudiani’s examples) all represent "investments" in our social infrastructure in the hopes of paying "dividends" in the future.
Eli makes a good point; what we do is far more important than what we call it. But I think that language often is an important element in driving what we do and how we act. Think of the difference in the following phrases; “civil union” vs. “marriage” and “pro-life” vs. “anti-choice”. Those are some powerful words. What we call things can be very important indeed.
Why do these words elicit “turf wars”? Because they define the approach that the sector will take. How we truly are can often be understood best by thinking about what we call ourselves.
Claire Gaudiani clearly states what she thinks “nonprofits” should be called. I don’t have a firm name in mind. I think the sector is still evolving and prefer an inclusive word like social enterprise with the broad definition of enterprise that I gave yesterday. But I’m open to other ideas.
Keep leaving your comments and ideas. Behind each of our own suggestions, I think we can see a bit into our own views of the sector. Words are powerful.