Are values at the center of your your fundraising program?

values1Anyone watching television or engaged in community conversations in recent months knows that our communities are entering into another period of time punctuated by values. Some people are talking about life, liberty and happiness. Others of us are focused on equality versus freedom (which are two values that are somewhat mutually exclusive). Perhaps, this elevated values debate is because our country is heading into a divisive Presidential election year. Or maybe it is because big policy debates are underway about LGBTQ and gun rights issues. Regardless, all of this talk has me thinking about the role of values and your non-profit organization’s resource development program.
Whenever I facilitate a strategic planning process for a client, regardless of which planning model I use, the process typically starts off with assessment of the current state and quickly rolls into facilitated discussions about mission, vision and organizational values. I always find it interesting that board volunteers find it easy to talk about mission and vision, but they generally seem to struggle with the values piece.
I suppose this shouldn’t surprise any of us. After all, values discussions can be emotional. Consider the following famous expressions about values:

  • Give me liberty or give me death!” ~Patrick Henry
  • Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury – to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best for both the body and the mind.” ~Albert Einstein
  • Only men would think of cutting themselves to determine who the packleader is. Idiots.” ~Christopher Paolini

So, a values discussion can be emotional. Got it! And then a planning facilitator like me comes along and tells your organization it is important to come up with a list of “shared values.” I guess when I look at it from this perspective, it totally makes sense that people want to punt on this exercise.
Regardless of how difficult this might be, it is still important.
Why? Well, I think Roy Disney probably put it best when he said:

It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”

values2All of this gets me thinking about the countless discussions I’ve been a part of throughout the years with non-profit staff, boards and fundraising volunteers where difficult fundraising decisions were being made. The following are just a few examples:

  • Should a gift from Big Tobacco be accepted when the organization runs anti-smoking and healthy life skills programming with its youth clients?
  • Should a named gifts contract be signed with a donor who wants to put a Bible quote on the outside of the building when the organization is secular and committed to serving everyone in the community?
  • Should a pledge be booked to one campaign versus another fundraising activity when a donor is clear about the benefits they desire and fuzzy about their intent; all of which is juxtaposed against staff wishing to achieve the goals laid out in their individual performance plans?

Of course, the easy answer is always . . . “What do your organizational policies say about this issue?
However, weren’t those policies shaped and developed in a crucible of shared organizational values? I hope so.
Moreover, how many times have you dusted off those policy binders only to find they don’t speak clearly or directly to your issue? When this happens, then you’re right back where you started . . . stuck and left with your organization’s shared values.
There seem to be a number of different schools of thought on the question of fundraising values.

  1. Some people believe your fundraising program should align with the organization’s shared values (hopefully found in your strategic planning document)
  2. Other people believe your fundraising program should align with the organization’s shared values, but it should also have a set of supplemental values focused specifically on the unique activities stemming from resource development activities
  3. Still others believe that fundraising staff come with a set of values that bind them together as a profession

The Association of Fundraising Professionals subscribe to the third school of thought and have this to say about values:

An ethical fundraiser aspires to: Observe and adhere to the AFP Code and all relevant laws and regulations;  Build personal confidence and public support by being trustworthy in all circumstances; Practice honesty in relationships; Be accountable for professional, organizational and public behavior; Be transparent and forthcoming in all dealings; and, Be courageous in serving the public trust.”

To be honest, I’ve never  operated under any one of these schools of thought. I guess my career has been guided and shaped by a hybrid (aka mishmash) of these ideas.
values3I’ve always taken the AFP ethics/values statement to heart, embraced my organization’s set of shared values, and superimposed my own set of individual values. As an Eagle Scout, my individual values have always been rooted in the 12-points of the Scout Law (e.g. trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent).
However, after some thoughtful consideration, I’m left worried that this approach could result in conflict. After all, what happens when an organizational value is in conflict with an individual value?
My best advice to those of you who care about values and the impact these potential conflicts might have on your organization is as follows:

  • Invest time in developing your organization’s list of shared values
  • Incorporate these values into your various systems (e.g. recognition, compensation, recruitment, etc)
  • Integrate these shared values into your supplemental planning documents (e.g. resource development plan, baord development plan, marketing plan, individual performance plans, etc)
  • Start every policy development exercise with a discussion about values
  • Find a way to talk about your organization’s shared values in every board meeting (e.g. generative discussions, CEO report, committee reports, etc)
  • Most importantly, build an organizational culture where it is safe for people to talk about their values in the context of shared organizational values (keeping in mind that your board is in a constant state of flux with volunteers coming and going)

To those of you who don’t care about this topic, I encourage you to turn on your television and watch some of the news coverage focused on what’s happening in Congress in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting. If you don’t want your non-profit board room to look like that, then I suggest you start caring about the power of values.
Has your organization had to deal with a difficult decision recently? Did values play a role in fueling the conflict or solving the problem? If so, please use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

The Chicago Cubs Convention through non-profit eyes: Part Two

cubs way3This last weekend I attended the Chicago Cubs Convention with my family.  As we drifted from session to session, I couldn’t help but see all sorts of blog themes and things that non-profit organizations could learn from this major league franchise. I will use the next few days to share a few of these observations and hopefully stimulate a few new ideas for you and your agency. In yesterday’s post, we talked about stewardship. Today, I thought we could talk about shared vision, values, and culture.

In many of the sessions, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to reference something called “The Cubs Way Guide“. They always described this guide as an organizational manual that describes what they believe and how they do things.  Here is how President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein described “The Cubs Way Guide” in February 2012 on the Cubs’ website:

“The Cubs’ way really boils down to the people — the players, obviously, but everyone, all the scouts and all the people in uniform in the Minor Leagues and the big leagues. For us to teach the game the right way, it’s more than words on the page. It comes down to how deep we dig to get connected to players to teach the game the right way, how much we care, how committed we are, how hard we work. There’s a lot that goes into this and building an organization.”

At Saturday’s convention, here are some of the phrases I heard people use to describe this manual and organizational resource:

  • It is a document that is a few inches thick.
  • It is what we believe as an organization.
  • It embodied the organization’s philosophy and approach.
  • It spells out how to prepare players for the big leagues.
  • It lays out for coaches at every level of the minor league and major league how to teach players how to play the game. Instruction can get as detailed as which foot hits the bag when players make a turn on the bases.
  • It lays out a vision and plan.

I walked away from each of these sessions wondering the same thing: “I wonder what such a manual might look like for a non-profit organization?

cubs way1After a few days of day dreaming about this topic, here are a few of my thoughts on what your organizational guide might contain:

  • Shared values
  • Shared vision
  • Code of ethics
  • Conflict of interest policies
  • Protocol on how to recruit community volunteers and prepare/position them for joining the board some day. (e.g. getting them involved in a committee, working a few pledge cards, etc)
  • Procedures on how to identify, cultivate, recruit, orient, train, rotate, recognize, and evaluate board volunteers.
  • Steps on how to hire new staff.
  • Rules on how to conduct outreach/recruitment of clients.
  • Etiquette on how to prepare for board meetings and committee meetings (e.g. agendas sent out a certain number of days before the meeting, meeting notes and action item memos going out a certain number of days after a meeting, elements of a productive board meeting, etc)
  • Code of behavior regarding how to engage, solicit and communicate with donors (e.g. Donor Bill of rights)

I suspect that I could make this list go on and on and on if I wanted.

If you started thinking to yourself when reading my list that you already have some of this in place at your organization, I suspect you are probably on to something. Some of this might already be included in your strategic plan, board development plan, resource development plan, stewardship plan, etc.

However, the genius of “The Cubs Way Guide” is:

  • It is all in one place, not in a series of documents sitting on a number of different book shelves.
  • It creates a central focus. It becomes the heartbeat of your organizational culture.
  • It is easy to reference.
  • It is easy to create training opportunities around it.

cubs way2

What are your thoughts about creating an organizational “How To Manual” for your non-profit organization? What would you include? Who would you involve in this project? What elements already exist that you might fold into such a manual? How would you use it to transform your organizational culture? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts because there is nothing new under the sun and we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

‘Tis the season to put your non-profit organization’s shared values to use

values1For the last few weeks, I’ve found myself in a number of non-profit boardrooms talking to board volunteers about a variety of difficult subjects. These difficult conversations covered the following areas uncomfortable areas: staff reduction, re-organization, service reduction, radical revenue enhancement, board transformation, and so on. In each instance, it felt like a “soul-searching” discussion . . . very big and very weighty. I found myself wishing for a magic pill that I could dispense that would make their path forward a little less difficult.

As I poured my morning cup of coffee and wondered what I should blog about today, my mind wandered back to this same question, but this time it wasn’t a “magic pill” for which my sleepy head wished and dreamed. This time is was a tool that I could hand them. Something like a compass?!?! And then it came to me like a bolt of lightning.

A year ago, I wrote a post titled “Does your non-profit have a soul?” It was all about the importance of engaging your board, staff, clients, donors, volunteers and stakeholders in a “shared values” exercise. One of the quotes in that post that jumped back out at me this morning after my revelation at the coffee pot was from 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.”

values2So, one organizations might find some comfort in their shared values of:

  • Care
  • Empathy
  • Sustainability
  • Success
  • Respect

While exercising these values when talking about difficult subject matter won’t make those issues disappear, it will likely bring clarity to the boardroom and help people relate better to each other. Right?

Another one of the organizations I am thinking of has the following values posted on the walls around their facility:

  • Believe
  • Inspire
  • Lead
  • Innovate

I close my eyes and imagine a boardroom discussion focused on questions such as “Where are we going to raise more money next year?” and “What short-term cuts can/should we make to balance the budget?”  Those discussions look different when I overlay their values on those conversations. Right?

‘Tis the season for giving and charity. It is also that time of the year when non-profit boards struggle with big, weighty issues like budget and revenue strategies for next year. My best advice to all non-profit boards is to take another peek under the tree and unwrap that tiny present you placed there years ago when you went through your strategic planning process.

Contained in that small package is your agency’s shared values. Use them as they were intended . . . as a tool to frame discussions and a backdrop to make tough decisions.

It might be the best gift that you’ve given yourself in a very long time.

What are your organization’s shared values? How do you use them? Can you recall an instance when your values helped with a difficult discussion or decision? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts.

Here’s to your health!

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

What do your donors value?

A few months ago, I had the privilege of facilitating a values exercise for an organization. I blogged about it weeks afterward in a post titled “Does your non-profit have a soul?” Yesterday, I had a similar privilege to facilitate a focus group with a different agency, and one of the questions I asked clients was “what values do you see the organization living?

Wow! If you ever want to know if you live your values, pull together a group of clients and ask them what they see. It can be an incredibly affirming exercise. I suspect it can also be eye-opening.

After yesterday’s focus group, I decided to spend a moment reflecting on the power of that exercise. I found my mind wandering back to the same question:

“I wonder how many non-profits know what values their donors hold close to their hearts and how that impacts their willingness to invest in their mission?”

For some dumb reason, I’ve never considered how a donor perceives an agency’s values, reconciles it with their own personal values, and factors it into their decision to donate or not. After thinking about it for a moment, it is as obvious as the nose on my face. However, I must admit that this never has consciously crossed my mind. <<Embarassing>> Additionally, this revelation has now trigger more questions:

  • Could fundraising ineffectiveness in part be caused by an organization that doesn’t have a well-defined set of organizational values?
  • Could an agency that only has values “on paper” and fails to live by them, negatively impact their fundraising program?
  • What can non-profits learn if they ask their donors what values they see the agency living?
  • How can a non-profit organization best ascertain what values their donors cherish?

Regardless of how you answer these questions, I suspect you will conclude as I have that it is important to figure out how to best communicate what your organizational values are throughout the cultivation, solicitation and stewardship processes.

However, first things first . . . what does your non-profit value? I will leave you with the following incomplete list of values and principles that I’ve seen some agencies embrace (e.g. the YMCA’s core values are in the graphic to the right of this paragraph):

  • Excellence
  • Honesty
  • Fun
  • Creativity
  • Respect for Others
  • Quality
  • Diversity
  • Innovation
  • Winning
  • Care for Others
  • Cooperation

Lots and lots of questions for a Friday. If you find yourself with some answers, please scroll down and share those thoughts in the comment box. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

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