Does your non-profit have a soul?

A few weeks ago I facilitated a values exercise for an organization that is in the process of trying to build a powerful and functional new team. After the exercise (which was contentious but very productive), some of the feedback I received from participants as well as others is that a values discussion is just one big waste of time.

I made a conscious decision to hear thes folks and not respond immediately. I wanted to marinade on it for a few weeks. Well, I’m done soaking and I am ready to confidently say “Organizational values are NOT a joke!”

Don’t believe me? You don’t have to . . . just listen to Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner who stated the following in their book “The Leadership Challenge“:

“Shared values make an enormous difference to organizational and personal vitality. Research confirms that firms with strong corporate culture based on a foundation of shared values outperform other firms by a huge margin. Their revenue grew 4-times fast; their rate of job creation was 7-times higher; their stock price grew 12-times faster; and their profit performance was 750-percent higher.”

Before your non-profit organization can craft of vision of who it wants to be, it must address the values questions. The reasons for this are well laid out in Stephen Fairley and Bill Zipp’s book “The Business Coaching Toolkit“. Here are three reasons they believe this to be true:

  1. Values give your people a cause to life for instead of just a job to do.
  2. Values give your associates principles to apply instead of just policies to enforce.
  3. Values produce leaders with relational authority and not just positional authority.

Still don’t believe me?  OK . . . think about a time that you weren’t living your life in alignment with your personal values. For example, you might value something like “balance” because your family is very important to you, but the demands on your time at work forces you to make decisions that don’t allow for “balance” in your life. How does living out of alignment with your values make you feel? I suspect there is tension and pressure.

Now take this example and extrapolate it to the people you work with, the donors who contribute to you, and the board volunteers who serve selflessly with you.

As part of your organization’s next strategic planning initiative, I encourage you to start with mission-focus and before you transition to talk about “organizational vision” facilitate a collaborative discussion with all stakeholder groups around organizational values.

I promise you won’t be disappointed. You will find that your organizational values act as a catalyst for all kinds of things and refocuses your hiring decisions, recruitment decisions and can even affect how you solicit and steward donors.

Does your organization have values? Are they real or just something plastic? How do you see your agency using its values? When they developed those values did they include donors in that discussion? Please use the comment box to share your thoughts. We can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


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