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How to use CSR buzz words in the right context

Every industry and sector has terminology that only the true insiders know about. I remember when I started my first nonprofit job after business school, I was so confused by the lexicon of the nonprofit sector including terms like  “theory of change” and “capacity building” that the puzzled look on my face quickly gave off the impression of my naiveté . Just as some nonprofit folks don’t commonly use business buzz words (my fave from b-school: “deliverables” and “synergies”).

But once I learned the language of non-profit, I had more credibility when communicating and could better identify those with limited understanding of nonprofit.

Don’t use general words for specifics:

It’s helpful to remember that terms like ‘corporate social responsibility’ and ‘social impact’ are words that represent a wide variety of topics and means something different depending on the scenario. They are helpful “umbrella” terms but this is where context is key.

Do: Like most things in communication you need to know your audience. Let’s say you’re having an informational interview with someone about a career in impact investing. Using sector wide terms like “social impact” or “CSR” isn’t appropriate rather you would want to show your knowledge and interest with words within that sector. For example – get familiar with specific impact investing approaches like “gender lens investing” or impact measurement approaches.

Don’t: If you don’t know the meaning, don’t use the word

It’s important to not just talk the language of the sector you want to be in but also understand the meaning. Sector specific terms are often used as a litmus test for those in the know. While these buzz words can make you sound like a true veteran, they also come with a drawback. If used in the wrong context it can make you look unprepared and even worse- unknowledgeable. Don’t try to use a buzz word just because you may think it will help you look smarter.

Do: Rather, do your homework on the topic of your choice and come prepared- whether it to an informational interview or a networking event. Remember, it’s ok not to know all the terms- especially if you’re just beginning. It’s more important that your communication reflects the effort you made to become knowledgeable.

Don’t do all the talking. 

Do: listen and


Do you have a story about a time you used a word in the wrong context? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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