What Does That Even Mean? Nonprofit Phrases & Buzzwords

Guest blogger Alexis Allegra of Allegra Consulting shares more information on phrases and buzzwords that are thrown around the nonprofit sector. 

I recently shared a post on my social media channels about a generally accepted operational definition of “capacity building”, which I think is a bit of mystery to many, including those who you use the term regularly.  That got me thinking – are there other phrases and buzzwords that we throw around in our sector that are just as unclear even to the folks that use them?  Here are a few that, admittedly, were puzzling to me for some time (so grateful for the fantastic, comprehensive internet resources):

Stakeholder: Internal stakeholders are people who are already committed to serving your organization as board members, staff, volunteers, and/or donors.  External stakeholders are people who are impacted by your work as clients/constituents, community partners, and others. It is important to get the perspectives of both groups.  (The Denver Foundation’s Inclusiveness Project)

Theory of Change: An expression of the sequence of cause-and-effect actions or occurrences by which organizational and financial resources are assumed to be converted into the desired social results. It provides a conceptual road map for how an organization expects to achieve its intended impact and is often displayed in a diagram. (Bridgespan)

Culture of Learning: A learning culture exists when an organization uses reflection, feedback, and sharing of knowledge as part of its day-to-day operations. It involves continual learning from members’ experiences and applying that learning to improve. Learning cultures take organizations beyond an emphasis on program-focused outcomes to more systemic and organization wide focus on sustainability and effectiveness. It is about moving from data to information to knowledge. (Center for Nonprofit Excellence)

Strategic Planning/Strategic Initiatives/Strategic Goals: A strategic planning process identifies strategies that will best enable a nonprofit to advance its mission. Ideally, as staff and board engage in the process, they become committed to measurable goals, approve priorities for implementation, and also commit to revisiting the organization’s strategies on an ongoing basis as the organization's internal and external environments change. (National Council of Nonprofits)


Alexis has more than a decade of experience in the non-profit sector as a direct service worker, program director and administrator; resulting in a broad set of non-profit management skills. She spent the majority of her career moving through the leadership tract at Teen Living Programs, an organization on the south side of Chicago serving youth who have experienced homelessness, before leaving to start her own non-profit consulting firm in 2016.  As a consultant, Alexis has worked with several Chicago area nonprofits to strengthen programs, build capacity and streamline processes and operations. Learn more Alexis and her consulting business, Allegra Consulting, on her website or check out her LinkedIn profile here

Alexis has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Michigan, a Master’s Degree in Psychology from the New School University and a Master’s certificate in Human Development from National Louis University.  She is actively involved with Chicago Women in Philanthropy, the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits and is the Vice Chair of the Associate Board of Chicago Scholars.