Why Organizational Values Matter to Fundraising and Strategy
At a recent strategic planning session, I was working with a nonprofit to create organizational values. As my team introduced the activity, a board member spoke up and said, “We’d like to focus on strategies and goals. Why should we take the time to focus on organizational values?”
Great question! Yes, it is so easy to want to jump to action — especially in this time of uncertainty.
But consider this: A recent survey of high-net-worth individuals found that the greatest criteria determining these individuals’ selection of organizations for investment was their values.
In other words, potential donors are looking for alignment between their values and your organization’s work.
Leaning on values has significantly boosted the visibility and fundraising of East Oakland Collective, a Black-led organization, whose emphasis on racial justice comes through its work supporting food insecurity, economic insecurity and transportation planning in East Oakland. Given the racial reckoning in 2020 and beyond as well as awareness of racial inequality, the nonprofit’s ability to show how it was bringing this value forward brought it significantly increased fundraising over the past two years.
High net-worth individuals, and most likely the majority of your donors, are researching your organization with a question, “Do the values of this organization align with my personal values?”
That’s why I recommend that all organizations working on strategic planning take the time to build organizational values that the board and staff feel aligned on and revisit these values to see whether they still fit and what adjustments need to be made.
Values Are the Basis for What an Organization’s Staff and Board Members Stand for and Stand Behind.
They are the foundation for building core strategies. For example, San Francisco-based La Cocina’s current values are hospitality, community, opportunity and inclusivity. Each of these values informs the organization’s core work of running a food incubator program for low-income food entrepreneurs. In the crisis of the pandemic, values helped to clarify La Cocina’s temporary strategy: When the organization was unable to operate its core program due to the pandemic (and La Cocina-born businesses experienced an average 70% loss in sales), these core values informed La Cocina’s shift to an emergency relief fund to keep food entrepreneurs in business.
Organizations Should Revisit Organizational Values Every Year or So.
Now that some organizational teams are coming back together in person after working virtually for the past two years, it is a good time to assess the degree to which the team’s work still aligns with organizational values, which may have been created a few years ago.
One Way to Evaluate Organizational Values: Dot Voting.
A simple way to revisit organizational values is through dot voting: Write the name of the value on a large sticky note, and below the value, draw a box with “0” on one side and “100” on the other. For each value, staff members put their dot between 0 and 100 to indicate the degree to which the organization is living up to that value.
This exercise generates a lot of conversation. For some values, I’ve seen team members vote in a range of spots between 0 and 100 with no clear pattern. Then we talk about why: Is it because team members don’t understand the value or because perception of organizational commitment depends on one’s role? Sometimes, a value is no longer applicable to the organization’s work and the group decides to remove it.
Conversations about organizational values matter because they give staff and board members the opportunity to talk about some of the questions that are most critical to the organization’s work:
- Who are we? (And who are we not?)
- What do we care about most deeply?
- How do we want to work together each day, with our team, our clients and our supporters?
Of course, to put these values on paper is to acknowledge that they are aspirational — if we’re human beings, we aim toward these values and cannot live up to them every moment.
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have shifted the values of an organization in obvious ways, many organizations shift their values slowly over time. Though obvious in this time as so many of us are adapting to the immediacy of the pandemic, taking the time when things are normal is just as helpful, even if there are no changes. At the very least, it gives the members of an organization the opportunity to revisit the values and reset accordingly. That back-to-basics moment can be critical to stopping a scope creep — or embracing a new mission and vision if the organization is truly changing directions.