‘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


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