A couple of months ago I was sitting in on a meeting of the board planning committee and CEO of a large nonprofit corporation engaged in regional economic and community development. This was the first of three committee meetings aimed at re-designing this nonprofit’s strategic planning process to make it a more powerful tool for program innovation. Not far into the session, one of the committee members asked if it would make sense to start the next strategic planning cycle by re-visiting the nonprofit’s “core values.” The ensuing discussion made one thing abundantly clear: core values hadn’t been taken very seriously up to then. In the first place, there wasn’t even consensus on what a “core value” was, much less on the role values should play in this nonprofit’s strategic planning process. In fact, no one in the room could recall when the nonprofit’s core values statement was last updated or even where they could put their hands on the most recent version. We finally found what we thought was the latest values statement – in the “Five Year Strategic Plan of Advancement” that the board had adopted some seven years ago and that had been gathering dust on a shelf since then. Though you might find this story a bit amusing, it’s actually a sad commentary on many nonprofits’ perfunctory treatment of core values.
Not so at the Association Forum of Chicagoland, which – as Chair-Elect Lynne Thomas Gordon and CEO Michelle Mason make clear in the podcast they recently recorded for this blog – takes core values very seriously. Their recently updated core values statement has been a centerpiece of the Forum’s centenary celebration and strategic plan update and also a key element in the Forum’s re-branding initiative. As Michelle observes, the core values statement defines what makes the Forum unique now and what it aspires to be in the future.
Re-stating its core values is only the first, albeit critical, step in the process. The Forum is passionately committed to putting their recently updated core values to work, rather than leaving them on the shelf to gather dust. I think you’ll find very interesting – and useful – Lynne and Michelle’s description of the process the Forum has employed to translate a particular core value – “a welcoming environment” – into real-life practice, not only at the Forum, but in their member associations.
I encourage our readers to comment and share their experience in bringing core values to life in their nonprofits. And once you’ve listened to Lynne and Michelle’s superb podcast, I hope you’ve share the link with your board and staff members and colleagues around the country.