Pop quiz in 3, 2, 1… What are your organization’s values?
Could you name them without looking?
Every nonprofit organization I’ve worked with – in some way, shape, or form – has values. They may be called Value Statements, Guiding Principles, or Approach.
Values may be a handful of characteristics, a paragraph or two, or a paragraph for each value. Regardless of the name or format, they all have the same purpose: to articulate the core, uncompromising ethics and beliefs that govern the organization’s decisions and actions.
Organizations spend a lot of time and effort developing values. Once we’re done, we post them on our websites and tuck them into our annual reports. And then, many of us forget about them and get on with the work of building our organization’s profile and reputation. The thing is, when we move on, we’re leaving a valuable (terrible pun intended) tool behind.
Two ways values can support our communications
As communicators, values can help us in two ways. We can leverage them to convey emotion and to demonstrate our organization’s conviction.
1. Values add emotion
By their very nature, our values are emotional. They’re “feeling words”. Passion, joy, empathy, justice. We can pull plenty of emotional language and imagery from them to inspire our audiences and tell our stories.
It’s even easier when our value characteristics are flushed out. For example, being able to jump off the theme of “empathy” is good. Having a clearer picture of what empathy means to the organization is even better. Here’s an example from my time at United Way of London & Middlesex:
“Empathy: We believe the root of all action for change is the ability to see and feel ourselves in the situations of others. We believe all people and all communities have the potential to overcome challenge. We treat people with dignity, fairness and equality. We understand and live the correlation between improving the life of one to improve the lives of all”.
2. Values demonstrate conviction
Values can be perceived as just “warm and fuzzy”. In reality, if you’re truly committed to your values, these “warm and fuzzy” words are actually defining your organization’s ethics and setting the standards by which to govern your decisions and actions. (Pretty important stuff to communicators who are often, whether in the job description or not, the conscience of our organizations’ brands.)
When you’re working on a piece to prove your accountability or to compel people to stand behind your organization, you shouldn’t need to re-create the wheel. Your values define your integrity. As communicators, our job is to demonstrate this by creating content that backs up what we say we stand for.
Values help create our organization’s identity, humanize our brand, articulate what we stand for, and guide the way we act. Our values can help us to convey emotion and demonstrate our ethics and conviction.
Nine ways to leverage your nonprofit’s values in your marketing communications
We’re generally good at bringing our vision and mission statements to life. We use them at the start of volunteer meetings, on t-shirts, and in media interviews. Bringing our values to life seems more tricky. But, it doesn’t need to be.
Defining and managing your brand
- Your values are an integral part of your nonprofit’s overall brand so it stands to reason they should be incorporated into the elements that define and manage that brand.
- Extend your values into the other humanizing elements of your brand such as Brand Personality and Brand Voice.
Factor in your values in the decision-making criteria you use when considering hiring, granting, spokespeople, vendors, sponsors etc. Would the Susan G. Komen breast cancer organization still have teamed up with KFC for its Buckets for a Cure cause marketing campaign if the decision was solely based on its values?
- Use your values to frame and support your decisions when dealing with a reputation management issue or organizational crisis.
Guiding how you work with people
Values inform the behaviours we expect of ourselves and others. Therefore, our values should be clearly communicated and consistently applied when we’re dealing with people.
- Build policies, such as a Code of Conduct and Social Media Policy, from your values to describe the specific behaviours that properly represent them.
- Include questions in job interviews and performance appraisals that can probe the person’s own values to see if s/he’s a good fit for your organization. Google calls this looking for the person’s Googleyness to see if the candidate’s traits match Google’s values and culture.
- Base some of the criteria for your recognition of sponsors, volunteers, and staff on your values to reinforce the ethics and behaviour you’re trying to foster.
Inspiring your content creation
By their very nature, values are “feeling” words”. Think “passion” or ”justice”. We can draw from them to add emotion and imagery to the material we create.
- Include your values in your corporate materials such as your website, annual report, and orientation presentations.
- Infuse the themes and concepts of your values (not necessarily verbatim) into your writing, such as in Chair’s messages and speeches.
- Chose story subjects, whether they’re people, programs or sponsors, that best illustrate and represent your values.
A couple of things to consider when leveraging your values
If it’s a struggle maybe there’s trouble
If you’re struggling to make your values fit within your marketing and communications then there may be a problem with the values themselves. If they don’t ring true or you’re finding them tough to translate into “real life” then (at the risk of sending your Board into a tizzy) you may need to revisit them to see why there’s a disconnect.
Ignoring your values can be risky
Once you’ve said what you stand for, you will be held to it. When an organization is in crisis, one of the first things people do is look at its stated values. Think of how Volkswagen was called out after its rigged emissions controversy. So, just be sure your nonprofit is ready to walk its talk.
Values are an integral element of every organization and they’re a powerful and practical tool to add inspiration and accountability to your marketing communications. For your next project, consider your values and how they can add emotion and conviction to your nonprofit’s brand, people and content.
This content was originally created for and appeared on Nonprofit MarCommunity.