The Impact Management Glossary

The Impact Management Glossary

July 10, 2017

In early 2016, Social Value Canada and Social Value US had developed a list of roughly 150 terms, and had begun to develop definitions in collaboration with SVT Group and graduate students from the Hult International Business School.

In fall 2016, the American Evaluation Association, Social Value International and The Rockefeller Foundation convened Impact Convergence, where the participants reiterated a need for a glossary to facilitate collaboration around impact between different disciplines.

In 2017, The Impact Management Project contracted Social Value US to develop this glossary, with support from AEA volunteers and many others.

Download a list of all the sources of definitions below.

The glossary is designed for:

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

This is a work in progress, and we welcome any comments as we improve it. Email us at


The protocol we used to determine which terms and definitions to include in the 2017 version of The Impact Management Glossary is as follows.

I. We defined the purpose and scope of the Glossary

The purpose of the Glossary is to explain possible sources of – and therefore to reduce confusion in the use of – terms related to impact management. The Glossary is not designed to be a comprehensive set of terms used by different fields.

The first aspect of scope was inclusion of terms used by the fields of practice that come together in the course of impact investing, evaluation of social and environmental impacts and impact management, namely: accounting, evaluation, finance / impact investing, business / corporate social responsibility, economics, philanthropy, sustainable development and social enterprise.

We have associated each of the different definitions primarily with a field of practice or profession (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.

We then prioritized terms that tend to be confusing when they do come up in this context. We defined four key characteristics

  1. Terms that have common or near common definitions across the different practices (e.g., stakeholder, discount rate, portfolio, net present value).
  2. Terms that have different meanings within and / or across different practices (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 areas but common within these and that do not have counterparts in other practice areas (e.g., impact first investor, logframe, greenfielding).

Social Value US took this list and invited a group of advisors with deep domain expertise in the fields of practice to add to it and suggest sources for definitions. These experts include members of BSR, AEA, SVI and partners of the Impact Management Project. Together, we identified nearly 300 terms and about two dozen potential, authoritative sources for definitions, and this list is growing, as is our global advisory group.

II. We found the best definitions

The Social Value US working team populated the definitions, seeking ones that were most clear, pithy, and representative of their fields of practice. We included all suggested terms unless they:

  • fell outside the scope of the glossary
  • were proprietary, meaning coined and for the most part used by a particular firm or individual
  • and/​or were terms that appeared to be obscure or incorrect variations of other terms already included

The criteria we used 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.

We limited the number of definitions we included based on these parameters:

  • Select 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 confirms 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).

Alongside the terms themselves, we drafted commentary for terms where it was useful to elaborate on the word’s usage in practice.

III. We encourage continuous peer review of the terms, definitions and commentary

Wider partners are still invited to review the terms, definitions, sources and commentary, and provide suggested improvements. Input has been integrated into the version of the Glossary launched in July 2017, and will continue to be taken onboard by the Glossary’s current editor: Michael A. Harnar, Ph.D.

The glossary is a work in progress, we are continuing to improve it, and if you have any comments please let us know at

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.

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