Let’s name this thing

I’ve gotten loads of comments, questions, thought bubbles, etc. in response to my crusade to rename the non-profit sector the iSector.

Here’s what people said:

  • Yes, we want to do away with referring to ourselves in the negative, particularly after learning that ‘non-profit’ means ‘non-progress’. (Ugh.)
  • Yes, we agree with the key attributes, distinguishing characteristics and unique differentiators as captured in the Five Is. Some could do without intrepid, but overall, we’re good.
  • Yes, we’re ready to find something new.
  • No, I can’t see myself saying/writing iSector.

Even though I’m the iSector instigator, I concur with this last point. It feels a bit trendy, a tidge flashy, a little too Apple-esque.

So let’s name this thing together!

Below is a list of options that have been floated as alternatives to ‘non-profit’.

  • For Cause (shout out to @Susan_Chavez on this one)
  • For Mission
  • Charitable Sector
  • Community Benefit Sector (shout out to @HildyGottlieb on this one)
  • Voluntary Sector
  • Third Sector (brought to us by our friends in the U.K.)
  • Unsectored
  • Progress Sector (I’m personally kinda liking this one right now…)
  • Social Good Sector
  • Social Benefit Sector
  • Social Impact Sector

Which do you like and why? Other suggestions?



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  1. Hi, Erica. You’ve rounded up a good list of terms for consideration. Also, just to clarify, the idea of “for-cause” did not originate with me. I heard the term at the Social Media for Nonprofits Conference in San Francisco during a presentation by Greg Baldwin of VolunteerMatch. 🙂

  2. Rachelle Nesta says:

    I like Progress Sector as well, and maybe instead of Social Impact Sector, what about just “Impact Sector?”

    • Or just Social Sector? (Although maybe that makes the work sound a little too much like one big cocktail party. Hmmm….)

  3. Erica, I’ve got the “Be Cause” phrase ringing in my ears…most likely as a result of your powerful January 6th blog post (“Because We Can!”) honoring Senator Scott White.

  4. Erica, of the possibilities on your list, I like “Social Impact Sector” the best. But I’m also being drawn towards “Social Innovation.” I think the name that is chosen, its connotations and its implications would do a lot to drive the intention and purpose behind its members/constituents. Do we want to leave the nonprofit culture as is? Or, do we want to move social service organizations, for example, toward a more empowering, innovative, collaborative model?

    • Really good questions. My vision and vote is for more innovation and impact, not the status quo. For many, it’s a scary time to think about anything but the status quo, mind you, but a little brave and bold could go a long way.

  5. Hi Erica!

    This is a really fantastic idea. My vote is for “For Cause” because of its positive spin, clear point, and concise wording. I also like “For Impact.” I have and do use “third sector” here in the US, since it is our third sector as well (Business, Government, Nonprofit), but I would love to use something that is more explanatory.

    Wonderful topic – would love to see a survey and then the results that you derive!

    • A survey would be great! Will thinks on how to make that happen, Lindsey. Meanwhile, did you see Nathan’s comments above re: Third Sector?

  6. I don’t mind the Third Sector (accustomed to it via UK organisations, as you mentioned, and at least it doesn’t have that negative ‘non’ prefix). I do like the word ‘social,’ but what about the area where the line blurs between business and nonprofit, i.e., social enterprise?

  7. Great thoughts Erica – I’m all about ‘social profit’ – it says who we benefit and keeps the word ‘profit’ so it’s not so hard of a switch – easy to explain to outsiders. I’m also going to respectfully disagree with Amy – I know the UK uses ‘third sector’ a TON but I’d rather not be an after-thought, and ‘first sector’ seems too confident :).

    • Whether its first or third, it implies a hierarchy, which has a “we’re better than/less than you” positioning that detracts from the point: impact, progress, change, a better world. Definitely don’t want to be an after-thought!

  8. “Social Benefit” or “Social Impact” Sector both resonate with me. They are simple and clear and do not require additional explanation. Also, I believe these both encompass both the charitable and philanthropic elements of the work done in the sector.

  9. Hi Erica,
    The Latin word for “have compassion” is “Compatior”–I like that. The Latin word for “help/provide assistance/be of use” is “Faveo” or “Proficio”, both much better than non-progress.

  10. Cause Sector
    Mission Sector
    Transformation Sector
    Creative Sector (I actually think this one has more profundity within it than people probably think at first hearing)
    Value Sector

    Brief comment: Although I do like “social sector” (or “social impact sector”) I have long ruled them out b/c it risks (1) sounding like a party and, more importantly (2) subtly leaves out “environmental sector” and “artistic impact” etc

    Impact Sector
    Equity Sector
    Just Sector
    People’s Sector
    Progress Sector

    Our Sector
    99% Sector (Sorry, I couldn’t resist)
    Job Creation Sector (If you read the new study about stronger job creation in nonprofit sector than forprofit sector over past decade)

  11. Values Sector
    MoreProfit Sector (Rhymes w/ counterpart “ForProfit Sector”)
    Synergy Sector
    Catalyst Sector
    Ignition Sector

  12. Sustaining Sector
    Solution Sector
    Generous Sector
    Compassion Sector
    Hildy’s “Community Benefit Sector” of course (as you note) is always strong
    MultiValue Sector
    Full Value Sector
    Altruistic Sector
    Gap Sector
    Bridge Sector
    Advancement Sector
    Advancing Sector
    Advance Sector
    Strategic Value Sector
    NetValue Sector
    Mutual Value Sector
    Social Leverage Sector

  13. Taking the cue from the brilliant and generous Lynn Twist, I suggest calling us the “Social Profit” sector.

  14. Ah….a great idea and many interesting possibilities here. I’m terrible at naming things….My mind just goes blank. I do think, however, that we have to be careful about using words that are “insider” words. We need a name that anyone can understand, remember, and pronounce. I suggest we start asking our Aunt Sallie, neighbor Phyllis, fellow volunteers, the person on the street. We might come up with some interesting names and possibly find out that we should leave well enough alone. I do like “cause” and that word is becoming more popular all the time. It could encompass nonprofit and social enterprise. I don’t like the word “sector” at all…it sounds very militaristic…..like we’re going to wipe out a small country. I like “community.” How about “Cause Community”? We use “business community” after all.

  15. Oh this is fun – you know how I like naming things…

    iSector had the bling factor but the ‘i’, to my mind, was ‘I’ and represented the exact opposite of what the sector is all about. Like saying the Me Sector, when it’s actually the We and You and Them Sector. I know that’s not what was intended, just how it sounded to me.

    ‘Social Impact Sector’ is catchy, but it does tend to marginalize environmental and other non-directly-people-oriented efforts.

    What ever happened to the good old-fashioned ‘Public Interest’? It could also become ‘Public Profit’ or even ‘Public Progress.’

  16. Perhaps its time to join the rest of the world and call it NGO sector.

    • Problem with NGO is that it’s still defining the work by what it is not: Non-Governmental Organizations. We can do better, Dave!

  17. Hey Erica!

    Thanks so much for linking to UnSectored in this post! I appreciate you engaging with our ideas, but actually, UnSectored isn’t about renaming the nonprofit sector, or even creating a new sector. It’s about recognizing that social value can be created in any sector, nonprofit, for-profit, or government. I agree that the term “nonprofit” is a little lacking to say the least, but it does have some usefulness when discussing the actual “nonprofit sector”, that is, those organizations that fall under the 501 c tax code.

    If you’ll take my two cents, I’d vote for “social sector” to encompass all organizations working for social change. This has its problems too, but I use it when referring to the social change sector broadly.

    Thanks again!


  18. Great discussion! How about the Helping Sector?


  19. as always- excellent topic Erica!!!
    in Israel it’s called the 3rd sector- but I’m not a big fan of the word sector. u could try “mission:charity”

    or this: charity in Hebrew is “tzedaka.” root of that word is “tzedek”- justice. “mission:justice” anyone?

  20. Here I was leaning and then Peter up and bedazzled me with all his naming goodness. What to know what I like? Generosity Sector. I’m a fan of naming it in recognition of the millions ofd donors that make the work possible. And initialIy I did lean towards Social Profit Sector. That immediately clicked with me.

  21. I love this discussion. While many of these appeal to me, I tend to gravitate to ones that don’t require a lot of explanation. I too am tired of the nonprofit, not-for-profit dance because it’s not accurate. We do work for profit so we can serve more people and have a bigger positive impact. I like the Community Sector because we do represent the community like the other two don’t (always 🙂

  22. I love the idea of renaming – but can I ask why ‘sector’ is so popular? I think I’d have to spend as much time explaining what that meant. That said, I do like Social Profit, For Cause, and would also suggest Mission Driven.

    • Love that you asked about ‘sector’, Amara. Joanne, above, raised a similar point and suggested ‘community’, e.g. Social Profit Community or, one my personal favorites of late, ‘Cause Community’.

      A question that’s bubbling up is: what’s the unit of measurement? Is it the individual, the organization, the collection of organizations or the cause. It’s very different to say, “I am a fundraiser” (unit=individual), “I work for a social profit organization” (unit=organization), “I work in the Social Profit sector” (unit=collection of orgs), and “I work to promote women’s health.” (unit=cause)

      Since we do the work because of the ‘why’ (a.k.a. the cause), seems like we should focus more on that and less on the rest. What do you think?


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