This article is offered as an example of practice-based research, focusing on the concept of praxis: the bringing together of research, theory and action. It does this by exploring the challenges of group work and collaborative thinking, sharing the learning and reflection of a group of civil society practitioners, from a range of different backgrounds and knowledge practices. The group came together under the auspices of the Raymond Williams Foundation, to reflect on 'keywords' that underpin their work in civil society. Using Raymond Williams's approach to hermeneutics, they considered how language is used and embedded within society. The approach allowed for the possibility of critiquing and contesting ideas that have become ideologically or politically dominant. The group considered the keywords 'charity', 'philanthropy' and 'voluntarism', and how their meanings have changed and evolved within society. The debate also brought into focus current concerns about shrinking state provision and consideration of whether the UK is witnessing a renewed focus on charity and corporate philanthropy. Ultimately, the article describes both the tensions and areas of commonality within the group in response to the debate, as well as opening up the group's learning experience to critical examination.