OPINION: Our name must not turn into a stick to beat us

Geraldine Peacock, a charity commissioner and a civil service commissioner

I remember coming home from school, aged five, in tears because some boys in the playground had called me "tortoise" when I came last in the egg-and-spoon race. My Mum hugged me and told me that "sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you".

That may have been true for me, but for charities words can hurt. In the sector, we are increasingly aware of the value of our brands. We also know how vulnerable our reputations are to damage.

Some of you may remember that a few weeks ago I challenged readers to come up with a more appropriate name for the 'not-for-profit' sector.

The public is faced with a plethora of terms describing a range of activities executed primarily for the good of society. The words and phrases include: charities; not-for-profit; non-profit; voluntary sector; voluntary and community sector; social enterprise; social investment; mutuals; cooperatives; provident societies; and now, community interest companies. No wonder the public are confused - we are too!

There is an old Chinese proverb, that says, "The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names". That sounds like common sense to me. I fail to see how we can have 'joined-up' thinking, let alone policy or regulation about the concept and playing- out of civil engagement unless we can capture the essence of what we do in a common terminology.

Although 'not-for-profit sector' seems to be popular, it does not feel right to me - it's negative and inaccurate. We do need to make a profit, not to pay to shareholders, but to invest in developing sustainability and to meet users' needs.

I did get some responses to my plea - not many, but enough to get the ball rolling. The starters for 10 are: the profit-for-good sector; the full-circle sector; the good sector; the profit-plus sector; Surfa (surplus for the good of all) sector; Epic (everyone profits if they contribute) sector; the common good sector; the community and enterprise sector; the Safe (sustainable and for everyone) sector. Perhaps we should skate over the 'good-for-nothing' sector...

Any more suggestions? Think public benefit; everyone wins; civil engagement; one for all, etc. See if you can come up with some new ones. The best wins dinner on me, if that whets your appetite!

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