The Impact Management Glossary

The Impact Management Glossary

October 27, 2017

You will find information here on the purpose of the glossary, the history of its development, and information about how it is being managed. As with any growing, living tool, we will update it as regularly as necessary and we welcome your comments and thoughts at


When it comes to assessing and managing impact, many terms mean different things to different people, and still other words are used to mean the same thing. The purpose of the glossary is to serve as a repository of terms related to impact management with the intent of reducing terminology confusion across disciplines. The glossary is not designed to be a comprehensive set of specific terms used by different fields, but rather to identify common or contradictory definitions and usage of these terms whenever possible.

Within the glossary, terms and definitions are attributed to the primary field of practice or profession that originated the term (e.g., finance or evaluation), however, we recognize that, in some cases, the principle field may be debatable. We welcome your input on this categorization.

This cross-disciplinary glossary is made possible by the contributions of experts working in the field, and includes common terms gathered from field-specific glossaries. If you are looking for discipline or field-specific terms, there are excellent discipline-specific glossaries, for instance, GIIN’s IRIS, BetterEvaluation and Investopedia. See our list of resources – available for download below – to identify other glossaries relevant to your discipline.


The glossary is designed for:

  • Asset owners
  • Intermediaries, including managers and advisors
  • Frontline organizations, including businesses and charities
  • Evaluators of social and environmental performance or impact
  • Policymakers
  • Academia
  • The interested public

The glossary is a work in progress, and we welcome any comments. Email us at

Development Timeline

Early 2016 – Social Value Canada and Social Value US compiled a list of approximately 150 terms in common usage. Definitions were developed in collaboration with SVT Group and graduate students from the Hult International Business School.

Fall 2016 – The American Evaluation Association (AEA), Social Value International and The Rockefeller Foundation convened Impact Convergence, where the need for the cross-disciplinary glossary was affirmed as a mechanism to facilitate collaboration among different disciplines.

Early 2017 – The Impact Management Project contracted Social Value US to develop this glossary, with support from AEA volunteers (among others).

June 2017 – The Glossary was launched!


The first set of terms was generated by researching fields that are prominent within impact investing, and evaluation of social and environmental impacts. These include:

  • Accounting
  • Evaluation
  • Finance/impact investing
  • Business/corporate social responsibility
  • Economics
  • Philanthropy
  • Sustainable development
  • Social enterprise

Social Value US took the list created in 2016, and invited a group of advisors with deep domain expertise in the above fields of practice to add to it and suggest sources for definitions. These experts included members of Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), the American Evaluation Association (AEA), Social Value International (SVI) and partners of the Impact Management Project. Together, they identified nearly 300 terms and about two dozen potential, authoritative sources for definitions, which served as the foundation for the 2017 glossary.

Going forward, an Editorial Board comprised of representatives from the fields noted above will collaboratively determine changes and additions to the terms. The Editorial Board is currently in formation, under the leadership of Michael A. Harnar, PhD. The glossary should be understood to be a work in progress, and will likely be updated twice a year.

Methodology and Decision Rules

Given that the purpose of this glossary is specific to reducing confusion over terms, a set of inclusion/exclusion rules related to term currency were developed. The original team used these rules to decide and the Editorial Board will likely use a similar set of criteria to review potential submissions.

Inclusion Criteria

  1. Terms that have common or near common definitions across more than a single different practice (e.g., stakeholder, discount rate, portfolio, net present value).
  2. Terms that have different meanings within and/or across more than a single practice (e.g., impact, reliability, control, materiality, metric).
  3. Terms that are only used in one or two areas of practice but have counterparts in other practice areas (e.g., base case/baseline/counterfactual).
  4. Terms that are specific to one or two area(s) but common within these and that do not have counterparts in other practice areas (e.g., impact first investor, logframe, greenfielding).
  5. There is an authoritative source for the definitions, that is not specific to an organization or group.

Exclusion Criteria

  1. Fall outside the scope of the glossary (e.g., the term is only used in a single discipline and there is no confusion).
  2. The term is proprietary, meaning that it is coined and for the most part used by a particular firm or individual.
  3. The term appears to be obscure or an incorrect variation of other term(s) already included.

Term Definition Criteria

The criteria for determining the “best” definitions were (in order of importance):

  • Accuracy. Some definitions are better than others. This requires knowing something about the subject and cannot always be assessed using the definition itself.
  • Completeness. Some definitions are specific to certain circumstances and uses. We want to take the definition with the most general definition.
  • Ease of comprehension. Some are better written than others.
  • Conciseness. All other things being equal, the shorter the better.

The definitions were further limited based on these parameters:

  • The definition that is pithiest and most representative of a particular field of practice.
  • If there are no major differences between the definitions, go with the pithiest overall.
  • If there are important differences between the definitions, note two (unless a third is absolutely warranted).

We found that 25 of the sources most frequently held the best definition, however, when there was a suspected use that wasn’t reflected in any of these authoritative sources, we found a source that confirmed the suspected use, and logged this new source in the “Additional Sources” list. In all, the Glossary has 67 definition sources (available via download below).

As an addition to the definitions of terms themselves, when possible, additional commentary is provided to elaborate on the word’s usage in practice.


Without the time and expertise of the following people, this glossary would not be possible:

Aislinn Betancourt
Leah Goldstein Moses
Frederik Korfker
Jeremy Nicholls
Zenda Ofir
Justin Oliver
Sara Olsen
Robert Picciotto
David Pritchard
Stephanie Robertson
Abigail Rotheroe
Kate Ruff

Get Involved

Whether you are a frontline business, asset owner, intermediary or evaluator, managing impact starts with talking about impact in a way that everyone can understand.

Will you start using these shared fundamentals when you talk about your impact? Have you already started, and have an experience to share?

Tell us how it’s working here.