It may be seen as just one step in the branding or strategic planning journey, but setting a charity’s values are of central importance and should be taken seriously.
Because a charity’s values set out what it prioritises. It defines the prism through which the charity will make decisions and conduct its business. And it sets out, publicly, what the organisation really stands for.
It is a branding question, to a certain extent, but it is so much more than that. Read alongside a clear mission and vision, the values complete the trifecta of simple – yet important – factors that define a charity’s core.
Here are some top tips to think about when setting your charity’s values.
1- Beware of setting these values at a Board level alone
I’ve seen Boards decide on key values without involving or engaging anyone else too many times. Those values are very rarely relevant to the organisation as a whole, as the Board is often too far removed from the day-to-day to be able to define these in isolation.
Staff, beneficiaries and volunteers may feel very differently about what values the organisation has – or should have-, and being excluded from the process will not help them feel a part of where the organisation is heading. The best values are gathered from a range of perspectives and should reflect what qualities are actually held dear to a charity.
As you might expect me to recommend, engaging an external facilitator to conduct consultation and activities such as Away Day sessions and/or focus groups is a great way to gather the input you need to identify your key values.
2- Avoid obvious and overused values
A quick google across the charity sector shows that some values are overused.
My personal pet peeve is ‘passionate’. Yes, passion is a good value to have, but it doesn’t differentiate your charity. I work with charities around the country and all of them have passion for what they do. If you choose passionate as one of your values, it doesn’t tell me anything new or different about your organisation.
Take some time to think about what values really do separate you from other organisations. A charity I once worked with had a very warm, welcoming atmosphere, and that sense of welcome was palpable in every domain of the charity. Consultation with the Board, volunteers, staff and beneficiaries all revealed the word ‘welcoming’, so this was chosen as one of their key values. Another charity was working with people with a disability and were adamant that their role was to empower people to live their lives as independently as they could, rather than providing support services that kept their beneficiaries dependant on others. They decided to choose ’empowering’ as one of their values.
3- Ensure your values infiltrate all aspects of the organisation
There’s no point choosing a value such as ‘diverse’ if that reflects only one aspect of your charity, such as your beneficiary group or staff team, but not your board.
If you’re going to make diversity a value, you need to translate that at every level, and in every decision. It should be evident in HR processes and decisions, in project design and delivery, and in Board recruitment, strategy and training, to name only a few.
This applies to all your values. If something is important enough to be a value, you need to demonstrate in everything you do that you really do …value it!
4- Keep it memorable, but don’t sacrifice relevance for ease
One charity I worked with spent days trying to come up with an acronym for their values, desperately trying to cram the ideas they’d had into one word that would string them all together. At one point, I seem to remember PRIEST was suggested. This was not a faith-based charity, I might add. STRIPE wasn’t much better.
Avoid this temptation, unless your values just happen to work out in this way. It is more important to get it right than to have a nifty memory device. If you’re truly living your values, no one will have trouble remembering them. Sticking to around 3 values or so is usually a good target to aim for, unless you have compelling reasons to go for more.
5- Spread the word.
Once you’ve defined your values, embed and promote them everywhere. Make sure they’re on your website, on any promotional material, on your social media pages, possibly in your logo. Use them in your funding applications and live them in your work.
Choosing the right values, then taking meaningful steps to put them into practice will unite your organisation, enhance your brand and increase your chances of success.
If you think your values, vision or mission is in need of a refresh, or are keen to look at strategic planning more broadly, get in touch. We can help with everything from a values refresh to a full strategic planning exercise. There’s never a fee for a chat.