Do you know what your charity’s values are?
If you’re stuck you might try looking on the ‘About us’ section on your website, or the opening few pages in your annual report. You may know them by heart, but I wonder whether everyone in your organisation knows, understands, or shares those definitive principles.
So, what are values and why do they matter?
Well, let me ask you this: when did you first learn to queue for something, and when did you learn that such behaviour was expected in shops, airports, restaurants and cashpoints? Or try this one… we’ve all been to parties where there’s a buffet, and usually nestled in the middle of the various beige-banquet of delicacies such as mini-sausage rolls, Scotch-eggs, and porkpies, sits a big and beautiful birthday cake. When did you learn that the buffet rules don’t apply to that cake?
You somehow know that you can’t just help yourself to that perfectly unblemished patisserie! But there is no rulebook or signs to follow. The answer of course, is that these are learned behavioural expectations that the majority of us live by – otherwise known as ‘social norms’. These often-unwritten rules have a huge impact on our behaviour as individuals, and even more acutely when we’re in group situations.
But weren’t we talking about charity values?
Yes, but I wanted you to realise that social norms are actually our values put into practice. The values behind the behaviours I mentioned above, are based on fairness – you’re here first so I’ll queue behind you. Or the values of personal property – it’s not my birthday, that’s not my cake, so I shouldn’t just help myself to it!
Not everyone shares or interprets values in the same way. There’s always going to be one kid who sticks their finger in the cake or swipes a bit of icing from the top. Is that because their parents didn’t tell them about the buffet rules? Possibly, but more likely it’s because their parents thought everyone (including their little darling) knew or shared the same values. This can be especially true when we rely on unwritten or unspoken norms, where we just assume that everyone shares our values, and we’re often perplexed, amused or angry when behaviours don’t live up to our expectations.
At DSC, our values are excellence and empathy
They are the two principles which define our behaviours – and subsequently, which shape our culture. Because values can be slippery things and mean different things to different people, we focus on having regular, planned conversations about them. So, every month our leadership team discuss how our behaviours align with our values – are we living up to them in practice? We do similar exercises with our teams, which helps ensure that our behaviours are actually our values put into practice. The more we think in those terms day-to-day, the stronger our culture becomes.
As charities, we must ensure that our colleagues and the people we serve know and understand the values which are at the core of all that we do – and that they match our behaviours. After all, it’s our behaviours that shape how our beneficiaries experience us or feel about us. Whether you’re a CEO, a manager, or a volunteer, making sure your charity’s values are at the core of your work and your team’s standards will have a huge impact on your charity’s culture, and its impact.
So, when was the last time that you and your teams explored your values and checked that your actions lived up to them? If you don’t do it already, why not add this to your next team meeting, or even better – make it a regular agenda item! Be creative in thinking up simple monthly activities that help identify how, as a team, your behaviours live-up to your values.
Making sure that colleagues share your charity’s values is no piece of cake; but getting this right will help ensure that when you’re serving beneficiaries, no one ruins the party!