For-purpose lingo bingo: 2021’s key impact terms explained

The for-purpose sector, like every sector, has its share of jargon and abbreviations. Think acronyms such as NFP (not for profit), SDG (Sustainable Development Goal), DGR (Deductible Gift Recipient), SROI (social return on investment) or ACNC (Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission). We’re also prone to use vernacular like social enterprise, social business, venture philanthropy, impact investing and impact assessment which can bamboozle sector newbies and outsiders alike.

In this brave – and at times baffling – world of lingo bingo, it can be hard to tell when something is genuinely an exciting opportunity as opposed to unnecessary technical talk. In light of this, we decided to define a few of the terms doing the rounds at the moment. Some of these are fairly hot off the press and others are more established, but us Sparkies think these are the ones to keep your eye on…and actually bring up in conversation!

So, here are our top three for-purpose lingo bingo terms for the moment.

Systems thinking                    noun

Systems thinking recognises that the challenges we face as a society are entrenched in systems and structures, including norms, laws, policies and financial mechanisms. It asks us to move beyond linear A-to-B thinking and recognise that our big problems are inter-connected and complex. Core to systems thinking is the notion that a web of underlying factors cause, maintain and exacerbate our societal challenges. As such, systems thinking and action requires us to understand and address these foundations, rather than working on the problem itself.

When to use it? During a strategic planning process, while reviewing or developing a theory of change or when asking (and answering) life’s big questions.

Example systems thinking tools: Theory of change, iceberg model, two loop theory and the five whys. 

Regeneration              noun

Regeneration is about pushing beyond sustainability and beyond the status quo. This means going past ‘do no harm’ and ‘net zero’ to having a ‘do more good’ and ‘net positive’ approach. In addition, it requires a mindset that considers ongoing ripple effects rather than looking at a fixed point in time. Of note, while regenerative practices are often associated with agriculture, natural environments and climate change, it has relevance in the other domains of our lives such as social, health, economic and cultural.

In addition, systems thinking (see above) is generally a core component of regenerative practices.

When to use it? In the creation of a new strategic plan or when philosophising about how we can build back better.

Examples of regeneration in action: Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness, Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics, Regen Melbourne or the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. 

Impact assessment                noun 

While many people speak about impact measurement, at Spark we’re strong believers in impact assessment. This is essentially about understanding and articulating your outcomes and impact through a mix of qualitative information and quantitative data.  Impact measurement, on the other hand, can easily end up just about the numbers (e.g. we saved $x dollars for every $y dollars invested). While hard stats are essential, impact assessment complements numbers with expert opinion and the stories of people with lived experience.

When to use it? When developing organisational, team or program indicators and targets, and for other evaluation and storytelling initiatives. 

Where to find out more? Check out the impact assessment webinar we ran with Pro Bono late last year here.

At Spark, these are a few of the terms that we have been discussing and digging deeper into over recent months. Hopefully, they spark some thinking and benefit you as well. Do get in touch with us at if you’d like to kick around ideas or if there’s a term that you’d like clarity on. If so, let us know and we can include it in a future blog.



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