An A-Z of charity terms and definitions

06 February 2024

We have compiled an extensive glossary of all phrases and terminology related to the charity sector, philanthropy, and non-profit organisations, and offer a succinct description of each.



Advocacy: Advocacy means supporting a specific cause or policy. Primary forms of advocacy include promoting social change, influencing policy, or simply raising awareness on particular issues. For more information, check out Mind’s helpful guidance: What is advocacy?



Aid: Aid is assistance provided to the vulnerable and people in need. The main forms of aid include humanitarian aid, development aid, and emergency relief.



Allocation: Allocation refers to how a charity distributes its resources and funds, particularly important in terms of receiving grants, in which case charities often have to specifically define allocation. 



Altruism: Altruism refers to the selfless concern for the well-being of others. Altruism often drives charitable activities, with individuals choosing to act to benefit others without obvious personal gain.



Annual report: Annual reports show a charity’s activities throughout the preceding year. The reports provide information on, among other things, financial performance, objectives, and strategy. For more information, see: Exploring changes to annual accounts.



Anonymous donor: An anonymous donor is someone who donates to a charity without revealing their identity.



Appeals: Appeals are requests for donations or support, typically focused on a specific project or crisis. Charities launch appeals to raise funds or resources urgently needed for their causes. For more information and guidance on appeals, see: Launching an online emergency appeal.



Articles of association: Articles of association are important documents that specify the regulations of a charity’s operations and define the charity purpose. The documents outline how the charity is run, including information on the roles of trustees and structure of the organisation. For more information, check out the NCVO’s guidance: A charity’s governing document: What it should include.



Asset: In the context of charity, an asset refers to any resource owned by the charity that has economic value, which could include financial assets, physical property, and intangible assets like trademarks.



Awareness days: Awareness days are specific days in the calendar year that are dedicated to specific causes, such as World Teachers Day, World Mental Health Day, or International Day of Charity. For a comprehensive list of all upcoming awareness days, check out: Awareness days you should know about in 2024.





Benefactor: A benefactor is an individual, organisation, or governing body that provides money or other essential resources to a charity. Benefactors play a key role in enabling charities to carry out their work.



Beneficiary: A beneficiary is a person or group who receives support from a charity.



Bequest: A bequest is a gift left in a will, often a sum of money or a piece of property, that has been designated to a charity. Bequests are a common way for individuals to support charities after their death. The more common terminology in the sector is legacy giving – see: A simple guide to legacy giving.



Board of trustees: A board of trustees is a group of individuals responsible for overseeing the activities of a charity. The board of trustees are responsible for financial oversight, managing change, stewardship, and holding the charity to account. For more, check out: What do trustees actually do?



Brick and mortar: Brick and mortar refers to the physical presence of charitable organisations, as opposed to its online presence. The term usually refers to physical buildings like offices, shops, and shelters.



Budget: A budget in a charity is a financial plan that estimates income and expenditure. Budgeting is crucial for effective financial management in charities. For more, see: The step-by-step guide to a charity budget.



Bursary: A bursary is a type of financial aid provided by a charity, often to individuals for educational purposes. Unlike loans, bursaries do not need to be repaid. Check out: A charity guide to bursaries.





Campaign: A campaign is a planned set of activities aimed at achieving specific goals, such as raising funds, awareness, or influencing policy. Campaigns are usually defined by a particular cause and driven by general marketing efforts.



Charitable status:Charitable status is a designation given by authorities, acknowledging an organisation as a legitimate charity. This status often comes with tax advantages and legal obligations. If an organisation has charity status, it means trustees control it and assets are held in a trust by them. For more information on charitable status, check out the NCVO’s helpful guide: Understanding charity status and registration.



Charitable institution: A charity (registered or unregistered) or voluntary organisation established for purposes which may not be strictly charitable in law, but which are philanthropic or benevolent.



Charitable trust: A charitable trust is a legal arrangement where assets (such as money, land, or buildings) are managed by one person or a group of people for the benefit of others, specifically for charitable purposes.



Charity: A body which is recognised as a charity under the relevant laws of England and Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland. For more information, see: The complete guide to setting up a charity.



Climate change: Climate change refers to long-term shifts in weather patterns and average temperatures, largely caused by human action. The impacts of rising temperatures have already been felt across the world and the consequences of further increases could be catastrophic. Charities are often involved in campaigning on climate change. For more information, see: Charities and climate change.



Collection box: A box or other container to collect money or other donations, such as food or clothing.



Compliance: Compliance refers to adhering to laws and regulations governing charitable organisations. This includes financial reporting, operations, and fundraising practices. See: HR 101: compliance.



Consent: Consent refers to the agreement given by individuals for charities to use their personal information, engage them in activities, or involve them in specific programmes. For a more developed definition, check out the Information Commissioner’s Office’s thorough guidance.



Corporate sponsorship: Corporate sponsorship refers to a situation in which a company provides support to a charity, usually in the form of a donation, sometimes in exchange for recognition or publicity. For more information on corporate-charity partnerships, check out: How to establish a corporate partnership.



Crowdfunding: Crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically using the Internet. For more, see JustGiving’s How to crowdfund.





Deductible: In charitable giving, a deductible refers to an amount that can be subtracted from a person’s or organisation’s taxable income as a result of making a charitable donation. For more information, check out the government website on tax relief: Tax relief when you donate to a charity.



Digital exclusion: Digital exclusion is when individuals or communities can’t fully benefit from digital technology. Digital exclusion can stem from factors such as poverty, geography, age, disability, or lack of digital literacy, though people of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds can be digitally excluded. Check out: What it’s like to face digital exclusion in 2024.



Digital inclusion: Digital inclusion aims to ensure equal access to and proficiency in digital technologies for all individuals, bridging the digital divide to mitigate social and economic disparities. For more, see: Everything you need to know about digital inclusion in 2024.



Digital poverty: Digital poverty refers to the lack of access to, or the inability to afford, essential digital technologies and services, such as the internet and computers, leading to social and economic exclusion.



Direct mail: Direct mail is a fundraising strategy where charities send letters, brochures, or other materials directly to potential donors asking for contributions. Direct mail is defined by the physicality of the delivery.



Disclosure: Disclosure refers to the act of making information available to the public, especially regarding financial practices, fundraising methods, and how funds are used.



Diverse funding sources: Diverse funding sources refers to the need to have various revenue streams, such as donations, grants, fundraising events, and income from commercial services. Income diversification helps charities to practice financial sustainability, safeguarding against reductions in income. For more information, check out: Charities need to focus on income diversity.



Donation: A donation is a gift given by an individual or organisation to a charity. Donations can be in various forms, including money, goods, services, or time. There are various types of donation, including one-time, recurring, legacy, tribute or memorial, stock, and so on.



Donor: A donor is an individual or organisation that gives a charity a donation, typically money, goods, or other resources.  



Due diligence: Due diligence refers to the assessment and management of potential risks and benefits when engaging in a partnership, accepting a donation, or undertaking a project. Trustees and senior leadership are usually responsible for due diligence. For more information, check out the government’s advice.





Earmarked funds: Earmarked funds, also known as designated funds, are donations specified by the donor for a particular project, purpose, or area of work within the charity. Earmarked funds are restricted, which means they must be used as designated by the donor. For more information on restricted funds, see: How to track, allocate, and report funding for restricted activity.



Empowerment: Empowerment involves increasing the strength and confidence of individuals or communities, enabling them to have agency and full control over their futures. Find out more: How to empower your service users.



Enclosure: Items or materials put inside a direct marketing comms. These can include, for example, incentives to encourage people to donate, information about the work of the organisation, or thank-you gifts.



Endowment: An endowment is a donation, often a substantial sum of money, given to a charity or non-profit.



Estate planning: Estate planning is the process of arranging the disposal of an individual’s estate. In charitable terms, it often includes bequests or legacies left to charities in a will.



Event fundraising: Event fundraising is a method of raising funds through organised events, such as marathons, charity dinners, lotteries, or auctions. For information on throwing an event, check out: How to throw a fundraising event.



Exempt status: Exempt status is a legal designation granted to charitable organisations, which exempts them from paying certain taxes due to their non-profit nature and public benefit activities. Find more detail on exempt status by following the government’s official guidance.





Fiduciary responsibility: Fiduciary responsibility refers to the obligation of one party to act solely in the interest of another party. Trustees or directors managing the charity’s assets is an example of fiduciary responsibility.



Financial statements: Financial statements are records that provide an overview of a charity’s financial position, including the balance sheet, income statement, and statement of cash flows. For more guidance on financial statements, check out How to read balance sheets and How to improve your cash management.



Foundation: A foundation is an entity, often established as a non-profit corporation or a charitable trust, with a principal fund dedicated to supporting charitable activities, education, research, or other philanthropic causes. A foundation, unlike a charity, is usually created and funded by a single entity. For more information on foundations, see: A guide to foundations.



Fundraising: Fundraising is the process of gathering donations by engaging individuals, businesses, government bodies, and so on. For an overview of fundraising, with all of the essential details, check out Everything you need to know about fundraising and Fundraising facts you need to know in 2024.





Gift Aid: Gift Aid is a tax incentive in some countries, including the United Kingdom, in which charities can reclaim tax on a donation made by a taxpayer, effectively increasing the amount of the donation. For more information, check out: What is Gift Aid and how does it work?



Giving circle: A giving circle is a form of philanthropy where groups of individuals donate their own money or time to a pooled fund and decide together where to allocate their contributions.



Giving Tuesday: Giving Tuesday is an important day for fundraising. It was created in 2012 as a simple idea: to encourage others to do good. Check out their website for more: Giving Tuesday.  



Governance: Governance refers to the systems and processes concerning the organisation’s effective, efficient, and responsible operation, typically overseen by a board of trustees or directors.



Governing body: The body responsible for governing a charitable institution. Governing bodies make sure charities run effectively and meet overall objectives. Boards of trustees are often the governing body.



Governing documents: Documents that set out a non-profit’s objectives, structure, and how it is managed. The Charity Commission offers model governing documents for all the types of registered charities, as well as  guidance on How to write your charity’s governing document.



Grant: A grant is a sum of money usually given by an organisation, especially a government or a charitable foundation, for a particular purpose, often to support non-profit projects or research. For more information on where to find grants, check out: Find more grants for your charity.



Grant making: Grant-making is the process of awarding grants to non-profit organisations, individuals, or other entities, typically by foundations or governmental bodies, to support their causes or projects.



Grant making body: An organisation that provides funding (known as a grant) to another organisation to carry out particular charitable, philanthropic or benevolent purposes agreed between both organisations.



Grassroots: Grassroots refers to the most basic level of an activity or organisation. In charity terms, grassroots movements are those that originate from the community level, often addressing local needs.





Heritage: Heritage organisations are dedicated to the identification, documentation, exhibition, and/or preservation of the past, including people, spaces, places, events, and so on. Check out Heritage Help for their extensive list of heritage organisations.



Humanitarian aid: Humanitarian aid is material and logistical assistance provided to promote human welfare, typically in response to crises including natural disasters, wars, and other emergencies.



Honorary donation: An honorary donation is a contribution made to a charity in honour of someone else. An honorary donation, unlike a tribute or memorial donation, can be made to someone still living.



House-to-house: Refers to collections that are made by fundraisers going from house-to-house, collecting money or other resources. Also known as door-to-door collections.





Impact: Impact is a measure of how charities are serving their communities and the change they are making in the world.



Impact assessment: Impact assessment involves evaluating the effectiveness and outcomes of a project or programme. It measures how the charity’s activities have achieved their intended impact. For guidance on assessing impact, check out: Tools to help charities measure impact.



Income generation: Income generation refers to the various methods charities employ to raise money, which includes donations, grants, fundraising events, and selling goods or services.



Individual giving: Individual giving is the act of private individuals donating to charities.



Infrastructure: Infrastructure refers to the essential systems and facilities needed for the organisation to function effectively. This includes IT systems, office space, and human resources. Infrastructure also refers to the system an organisation exists within when working on a particular cause, for example healthcare charities work within a larger infrastructure of the public and private healthcare services.



Infrastructure organisation: Infrastructure organisations, also known as infrastructure charities, help local organisations receive the advice, support, and representation they need to improve support to their communities. Charity Digital is an example of an infrastructure organisation.



In-Kind donation: An in-kind donation is a type of gift to a charity that is made in goods or services rather than cash. Examples include donated food, clothing, expertise, or free use of a venue.





Joint funding: Joint funding refers to a situation where a project or initiative is funded by multiple donors or organisations. The collaboration can help in pooling resources for larger impacts.



Junior board: A junior board is a group of younger volunteers or professionals who support a charity, often involved in fundraising, advocacy, and spreading awareness among younger demographics. These go by other names, including youth boards or youth advisory boards, and can take different forms, varying dependent on the charity. For more information, check out: The rise of youth advisory boards.



JustGiving: JustGiving is an online platform for fundraising, in which individuals and organisations can create pages to collect donations for charities or personal causes.





Kickstarter: Kickstarter is a popular crowdfunding platform where people can fund projects, including charitable or social cause projects, through small contributions from a large number of people.



Kinship care: Kinship care refers to the care of children by relatives or close family friends when their parents are unable to care for them. Some charities specifically support kinship care arrangements. For more information, check out The Kinship Care Charity’s article on the topic.



Know-your-donor: Know-your-donor (KYD) is a principle in fundraising that emphasises understanding the background of donors. This includes their interests, donation history, and reasons for supporting the charity. KYD can be particularly helpful for successful marketing, boosting rich donor profiles.





Legacy fundraising: A legacy is a gift left in someone’s will to a person or organisation, often a charity. This form of giving can provide significant support to charitable organisations. For more, see: The ethics of legacy giving.



Legitimate interest: Legitimate interest provides a lawful basis for processing personal data which, in some circumstances, allows a charitable institution to send direct marketing as long as the person who will receive it hasn’t said ‘no’ and it does not cause harm or override a person’s privacy rights. Check out UCL’s helpful guide: Legitimate interest as a lawful basis.



Letter of inquiry: A letter of inquiry is a type of preliminary proposal sent by charities to foundations or potential funders. It outlines the proposed project and funding needs to gauge the funder’s interest.



Licensing authority: An authority with the legal power to allow a particular fundraising activity for which authorisation is needed by law, such as a house-to-house or street collection.





Marketing: Marketing in a charity context involves promoting the charity and its causes to attract donors, volunteers, support, and much more. Common marketing avenues include content marketing, SEO, social media marketing, and email marketing. For a comprehensive guide that explores all the various elements of charity marketing, check out: The ultimate guide to digital marketing.



Matched giving: A matching gift means a company matches the donations made by its employees, often doubling the donation. For more information, take a look at the Charities Trust.



Microdonations: Microdonations are small financial contributions. Charities collect these from lots of donors to support their causes, acknowledging that small donations can accumulate to substantial amounts.



Mission statement: A mission statement is a summary of aims and values of a charity. It often includes purpose and how they plan to serve. If you need to put together a mission statement, read How to write a mission statement.





Needs assessment: Needs assessment is a process for determining and addressing needs or gaps between current and desired conditions, often used by charities to identify the needs of the community or a specific group.



Non-governmental organisation: A Non-governmental organisation, or NGO, is a non-profit group that operates independently of any government, typically one whose purpose is to address a social or political issue. You can find a more detailed definition from NGOSource: What is an NGO?



Non-profit: A non-profit organisation uses its surplus revenues to achieve its purpose or mission, rather than distributing its income to the organisation’s leaders, members, or shareholders. While all charities will be non-profit making organisations, not all non-profit making organisations fall within the definition of a charity for tax purposes. For more detailed definitions of charity, non-profit, and not-for-profit, check out government guidance: What is a charity?





Ombudsman: An ombudsman is a person appointed to investigate complaints against maladministration, especially that of public authorities.



Online fundraising platform: A website or application that charitable institutions can use for fundraising, or that people or organisations can use for crowdfunding for charitable, philanthropic, and benevolent purposes. Check out: The best online fundraising platforms for charities.



Operating costs: Operating costs in a charity refer to the expenses necessary for the organisation to function, which can include rent, utilities, staff salaries, and office supplies, among other things.



Opt-in: Opt-in/opt-out refers to the choices given to donors and supporters regarding whether they wish to receive communications from the charity. For more: What soft opt-in data means for charities.



Organisational structure: Organisational structure refers to how the organisation is set up in terms of leadership, departments, and staff. It defines roles, responsibilities, and the flow of information within the organisation.



Outreach: Outreach is the activity of providing services to populations who might not otherwise have access to those services. In charity, it often involves awareness raising and direct support to those in need.





Patron: A patron is a high-profile individual who lends their name and support to a charity. Patrons can help raise a charity’s profile and attract more support.



Payroll giving: Payroll giving is a way to donate money through the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system from wages or pension to charity without paying tax on it. Payroll giving is sometimes called “give as you earn” or “workplace giving”. For more information, see: All you need to know about Payroll Giving.



Philanthropy: Philanthropy is the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.



Planned giving: Planned giving is a form of charitable giving where a donor plans to give a major gift, over time or as part of their estate planning, typically in the form of bequests or trusts.



Pledge: A pledge is a commitment to give a specific amount of money to a charity, usually paid over a set period. Pledges help charities predict their income over time.



Pro bono: Pro bono work is professional work undertaken voluntarily and without payment as a public service. Lawyers, consultants, and other professionals often offer pro bono services to charities. For more information, check out: How to get pro-bono services.



Prospect: In the context of fundraising, a prospect is an individual, company, or foundation that is considered a potential donor, identified through research and analysis.



Public sector funding: Public sector funding is financial support given to charities by government entities.





QR code: QR codes are used in fundraising to quickly direct donors to a donation page using a smartphone. They can be placed on printed materials, advertisements, or event displays. For more details on how to use QR codes, check out: How charities can use QR codes for fundraising.



Quorum: A quorum is the minimum number of members of a board that must be present at a meeting to make the proceedings of that meeting valid. This ensures decisions are made with adequate representation.





Recurring donation: A recurring donation is an ongoing contribution made to a charity at regular intervals, such as monthly or annually. This provides a predictable income stream for the organisation.



Registered charity: A registered charity is an organisation that is registered with the government or relevant authority as a charity, which often brings tax benefits and legal obligations. For more information, check out: How to successfully register your charity.



Resource allocation: Resource allocation in a charity refers to the process of distributing the organisation’s resources, including funds, staff, and materials, to various projects or areas of operation.


Restricted funds: Restricted funds are donations given to a charity with specific conditions attached.


Return on investment: Return on investment refers to the evaluation of the efficiency or effectiveness of a donation or expenditure, measuring the benefits or outcomes relative to the costs.


Revenue: Revenue for a charity is the income earned by the organisation. This can include donations, grants, fundraising activities, and any other sources of income.





Seed money: Seed money is an initial funding used to start a new project or initiative. In the charitable sector, it’s often used to kick-start fundraising campaigns or pilot programmes.



Service users: A service user is anyone who has accessed services provided by a charity. The term is interchangeable with beneficiaries, as expressed above.



Service delivery: Service delivery refers to the work of a charity to help its service users or directly benefit its cause. For more information, and detailed articles on the subject, check out our Service Delivery Hub.



Small donation rules: The rules of the ‘Gift Aid small donations scheme’ (GASDS). You can see the rules on the government’s website: Small donations scheme.



Social enterprise: A social enterprise is a business that addresses social issues. While they generate profits, profits are used to fund social programmes. Check out the NCVO’s definition: Understanding social enterprise.



Social justice: Social justice is a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society. Many charities work to promote social justice by addressing inequality, discrimination, and other societal issues.



SORP: Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP) sets out how charities should prepare annual accounts and report on finances. See government guidance: The Charities Statement of Recommended Practice.



Sponsorship: Sponsorship in the charity sector involves a business or individual providing support (financial or in-kind) to a charity in exchange for recognition or marketing opportunities.



Static collection: A collection using collection boxes which stay in one place.



Stewardship: Stewardship in the context of charities refers to the responsible management and oversight of resources, including donations, to ensure they are used effectively and ethically. For more on stewardship, check out our article: Why good stewardship is so important.



Sustainability: Sustainability refers to the ability of the organisation to maintain its operations and impact over the long term, often involving diverse funding sources, efficient practices, and environmental awareness.





Targeted giving: Targeted giving is a fundraising approach that encourages donors to contribute to a specific cause, project, or initiative within a charity, rather than making a general donation.



Tax deductible: Tax deductible refers to donations made to a charity that can be deducted from an individual’s or organisation’s taxable income, reducing the amount of tax owed.



Tax-exempt: Tax-exempt status allows charities to operate without paying certain taxes, such as income tax or property tax. For more on taxes and charities, see the government’s guidance: Charities and tax.



Think tank: A think tank is a research institute or organisation that conducts research and analysis to provide solutions and recommendations for social and policy issues.



Third sector: The third sector refers to non-profit organisations, including charities, that operate alongside the public and private sectors to address societal issues.



Trustee: A trustee is an individual or member of a board responsible for the governance and management of a charitable organisation. Trustees have fiduciary duties to act in the charity’s best interests. For more information, see: How do I become a trustee?





Universal access: Universal access in charity work aims to ensure that all individuals, regardless of their background or circumstances, have equal access to essential services and resources. It is essential to digital inclusion.



Unmet need: Unmet need refers to the gap between the demand for services or support and the availability of resources or programmes to meet that demand within a community or population.



Unrestricted funds: Unrestricted funds are donations given to a charity without specific conditions attached. These funds can be used by the charity for its general operations or as needed.



User-centred design: User-centred design is an approach in charity work that focuses on designing programmes, services, or interventions with the needs and preferences of the service users in mind. Check out our article Why user-centricity is vital for charities or listen to our podcast The benefits of user-centred design.




Value-based giving: Value-based giving refers to making donations to charities that align with an individual’s or organisation’s core values and beliefs, often driving philanthropic choices.



Vision statement: A vision statement is a concise description of a charity’s long-term goals and aspirations, outlining the desired future impact or achievements.



Voluntary sector: The voluntary sector, also known as the third sector, comprises non-profit organisations, charities, and social enterprises that operate independently of the government and private sectors.



Volunteer: A volunteer is an individual who offers time, skills, and services to a charity or non-profit organisation without expecting financial compensation. Volunteers play a vital role in charitable activities. For information on how to find volunteers, check out: The best places to find volunteers in 2024.



Volunteer management: Volunteer management involves recruiting, training, and coordinating volunteers to ensure they are effectively contributing to a charity’s mission and activities. Volunteer management systems can often smooth out the process and provide benefits to charities. For more details on volunteer management, check out our article: A complete guide to volunteer management.





Webinar: A webinar is a session with the expressed aim of teaching others, conducted over the internet. Charities often use webinars for educational purposes, fundraising, or to engage with supporters. Charity Digital has been running bi-weekly webinars for several years, all of which are available for free online.



Welfare: Welfare refers to the well-being, health, and prosperity of individuals and communities, often at the core of charitable efforts to support those in need.



Wildlife conservation: Wildlife conservation charities focus on protecting and preserving endangered species and their habitats, promoting biodiversity and environmental sustainability.



Will: A will is a legal document that specifies how a person’s assets and possessions should be distributed after their death, including any bequests to charities. Related to legacy giving, as above.



Workshop: Workshops are educational or training sessions conducted by charities to impart knowledge and skills to beneficiaries, staff, or volunteers. Charity Digital is running workshops to support charity operations in 2024. You can apply now: Charity Digital Workshops: Transform and thrive in 2024.





Xenodochia: Xenodochia describes an institution such as a charity or a person known for being hospitable or charitable in providing shelter and aid to strangers.





Year-end giving: Year-end giving refers to the practice of making charitable donations towards the end of the calendar year, often to take advantage of tax deductions and support causes before year-end.



Youth outreach: Youth outreach programs involve efforts by charities to connect with and provide support to young people, particularly those facing challenges or at-risk situations.





Zero hunger: Zero Hunger is a sustainable development goal set by the United Nations (UN), and many charities work towards this goal by addressing food insecurity, malnutrition, and hunger-related issues. You can see the UN goals here: UN sustainable development goals.

Sign Up

Sign in to continue reading

Access all our articles and search the provider directory for free.