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A nonprofit’s mission explains why it exists.

A nonprofit’s goals details the path it intends to take to fulfill that mission.

But, what about core values? For too many nonprofits, a list of core values is an afterthought, thrown together because some consultant said the nonprofit needed to adopt them. Too often, core values are like the middle child—crammed in between the mission and goals, feeling misunderstood and left out.

However, determining and monitoring a nonprofit’s core values allows the nonprofit Board of Directors to create culture and answer a question left unanswered by the mission statement and strategic plan. If the mission explains why and goals explain what, core values explain how. When a nonprofit develops and implements core values, it says, “This is how we operate—within the organization and with those our organization seeks to serve.”

Benefits of Core Values

1.  Core values, when adopted and practiced, create a desired culture.

Mike Kryzewski, the Hall of Fame basketball coach at Duke University, laid out a few core values for the Duke basketball program in a talk I listened to years ago. He said the team has very few rules. In fact, he said there are only two. First, when we talk to each other, we look each other in the eye. Second, when we look each other in the eye, we tell the truth. Those two rules serve as the core values of the Duke program that (next to Kentucky, of course) has been the most successful program of the past few decades.

When a nonprofit adopts and practices core values, those core values help create a culture in the organization. And, that culture determines how people inside and outside the organization are impacted by the nonprofit. That impact will either help or hinder the nonprofit in achieving its goals and mission.

The role of the Board of Directors is to oversee the adoption of core values and monitor the goals, programs, and personnel to assure that they align with the core values.

2.  Core values answer the how question.

Let’s assume that a nonprofit, such as a church, has a goal of equipping a
certain number of people with skills to overcome addiction. Let’s also assume that the church has the following core value: People grow best in the context of relationships. When a staff member comes up with a great idea to equip people to overcome addiction through an online course and app for the smart phone, the church may be tempted to go all in on the idea. This is how we do this—we leverage tech to equip people to overcome. But, if the church is true to its core value that people grow best in the context of relationships, the church will likely either reject the idea completely or modify it extensively to create space for relationships.

Core values help nonprofits determine how they do what they do!

The Board’s Role

First, core values must be developed by the Board of Directors in cooperation with the nonprofit’s staff and other important stakeholders.

Second, just like with the mission, a nonprofit can drift from its core values. Almost every person who buys a new car determines that it will be kept clean—no eating, no drinking, no trash. But, over time, the rules get lax and before long the car is mobile closet, trash can, and depository of fast food leftovers. It’s easy to drift from core values over time. The job of the Board of Directors is to monitor the organization’s goals, programs, and personnel to make sure that drift doesn’t happen.

If you would like more information about how Reynolds Law Group, PLLC can help train your nonprofit’s board in its responsibilities call 757.219.2500 or send us an email to grant@reynoldslawgroup.net to set up an appointment.