These are some terms we use to define our work. These aren't necessarily the dictionary definitions but describe the way we think about them. 


A leadership style that can be used from any position in an organization or society to help teams manage changing environments by prioritizing relationship and collaboration over authority and control. Adaptive leaders recognize that having tough conversations, experimenting with new approaches, and making space for others to lead is essential. Learn more about how we support adaptive leaders here.



Changemaker - Anyone who works with others to make a difference in their community. We provide and support many learning experiences for changemakers, including our Changemaker Fellowship. Changemakers:

  1. Spot problems, big and small

  2. Imagine a new way forward that benefits everyone (not just a few)

  3. Try out a solution

  4. Inspire others to own the solution

  5. Help others thrive and adapt in a changing world

(definition by Ashoka)



Something that will improve the quality of life in our region in a broad (for all) and durable (for a long time) way. Examples include infrastructure like housing and transportation; clean energy and water; arts and culture; accessible recreation or healthy food.  Learn more about how we support community assets.



A learning community of people with a common interest who share resources and ideas. We host a Systems Change Community of Practice with grantees.



A problem that impacts all or a significant part of a community and defies any singular solution. There may be disagreement about what is causing a problem and/or what to do about it. Many factors influence complex problems that are difficult to predict and influence (political, social, economic, attitudinal).  Complex community problems require experimentation and learning to find solutions tailored to the needs of the communities they affect. Systems change is one way to work on complex problems. 



We use the terms Fiduciary or Fiscal Agent to describe the organization that manages grant dollars for an initiative. We like to provide grants to partnerships and networks, however these must be managed through a fiduciary. Fiduciaries for our grants must meet all eligibility requirements, and will have reporting responsibilities, including a final report and budget. Fiduciaries are encouraged to create and submit a Memorandum of Understanding or other official agreement with project partners.



Investments in companies, organizations and funds that generate social or environmental impact alongside financial return. We have an Impact Investing strategy that takes a percentage of our endowed assets and invests them locally.



Systems Change Accelerator grantees choose a learning steward to work with Rotary Charities to create a custom process for their initiative to collect information and stories describing what they are learning. We hope that learning stewards will help their initiatives, our staff, and the community notice early signs of a changing system together. Learn more about Systems Change Accelerator learning stewards.



Opportunities for intervention where a relatively small shift in one thing - a like a mindset, relationship, policy, practice - may produce big progress toward systems change.



There are many types of networks, but when we use the word we are usually talking about groups of people from different organizations working together for a common purpose. They typically have a formal structure and stick together over time, working toward a broader vision, rather than one specific task or activity. These types of networks link organizations that employ different core strategies (service delivery, public education, advocacy, etc.) in an effort to make change. Join others working on what you care about - take a look at a list of networks in our area.



A system is any set of things that are interconnected and produce a result. There are many types of systems; Rotary Charities is most interested in the systems that shape our society, like the systems that affect our access to food, education, nature, health care, housing, etc. We share learning experiences to help changemakers develop a strategy to change the systems they care about. We provide funding to change systems through our Systems Change Accelerator grant.



Unlike direct service projects, systems change works on the underlying structures of a system by shifting processes, practices, relationships, resources, and/or policy. This also requires shifting and supporting new mindsets, building trust and deep connections to others working in the system, and engaging those most affected by the system. The intended impact of systems change is both durable and broad progress on a complex problem, beyond what any one actor could achieve alone.  Learn more about our work in systems change.