Words: They define us, they describe us, they guide us…

Among nonprofit organizations, pretty much everyone agrees they need a mission statement; something that defines their work.  Then, they usually include a vision statement to further define and direct the end goal of the mission.  For some organizations, a values statement is also included to define the parameters of what lengths the organization may travel to achieve the mission and vision; it often serves to guide whether the means justify the ends.

I’m a Boomer, I grew up in a rural community in the Midwest, where your word was your bond and a handshake was all the contract that you needed.  I’ve spent a great deal of my career working to choose the right words to communicate to an audience things like: why, and how, and when, and where.  I often get the opportunity to review and evaluate the words that people choose to describe their work and then compare and contrast them to what they actually do.

More often than not, these two paradigms do not align.

Choose your words carefully and then exceed these expectations…

The values statement defines how you do your work.  But, it’s not just what is important to you, it’s also a reflection of your community and what IT values.  These values identify the sidelines of your field of play and provide instruction for all stakeholders to ensure your work reflects these common community values.  It therefore, looks outside the organization, to the visionary outcomes you want to create for your community and forms the basis for your brand.  What you stand for and how you interact with the world around you.

Now, most people do not understand brand.  They think about tangible items like logo and color and images; they don’t realize that a brand is what people think when they hear your name.  Those outside your organization use words to describe how they feel about your work; whether your live up to the words that you choose to use to describe yourself, your work, and your impact.

I’ve often said the best way to improve your brand (what people think about you) is to be excellent in the work that you do. That perspective brings me back to the intersection of words and actions. Something we can probably all agree upon it that most people are pretty fed up with hearing one thing, only to see another happen.

A values statement should be more than a sign on your wall.

It should be shared throughout your organization.  It should not only guide your actions with service recipients, it should also guide you in interactions with volunteers, donors, vendors, and community.  Do you collaborate?  Is a passion for others or inclusiveness integral to your mission?  Do you promote fair play, integrity, respect, dignity, or transparency?  If so, then ensure that you treat everyone you encounter in the process of your mission, according to your values.

Here’s how you can improve your principles and your brand: Create a decision matrix; with every decision you make, compare it to your matrix: does it align with mission, vision, AND values?  If not, reevaluate, if so, then move forward.

Don’t just choose your words carefully… Select them from a perspective of how you want to act!

Footnote:
OK, so we just couldn’t help ourselves with the image… if you get the joke, send us an email with the reference and you’ll win a free 7 Point Organizational Checkup.  It is structured around our enhanced life-cycle analysis and it focuses on identifying those factors that will help you move each element of your organization to the next stage in its life-cycle. Armed with this knowledge, you can more effectively facilitate a comprehensive plan forward.