Explicit Values or I’ll Know Them When I See Them

Explicit Values or I’ll Know Them When I See Them


Personally and professionally, individually and collectively, we show our values whether or not we acknowledge it. Recently, three very different bloggers wrote about values, and an article in a professional journal pointed to its importance.

Mark Chusill wrote for Harvard Business Review, Keep a List of Unethical Things You’ll Never Do. Vu Lee, the nonprofit executive who writes the Nonprofit with Balls blog, authored, Why Organization Values are So Sexy. Mark Leach and Laurie Mazur, in Nonprofit Quarterly, explained their necessity in Creating Culture: Promising Practices of Successful Movement Networks. And Seth Godin wrote the pithy post, Where’s the Money.

Chusill emphasized that staying constantly aware of our personal values keeps us off the slippery slope of doing unethical things. No one enters the workplace straight from school and says, “I’m going to cheat people, and skim funds, and cover up mistakes.” But one time you’re short; you “borrow” from a client’s funds and pay it back from profits. It doesn’t backfire, so you do it again. Each time it becomes easier. Yet if someone asked you if it was okay to steal, you’d say no.  Really? Your actions say differently.

Lee writes about making an organization’s values explicit. Instead of high sounding words on the wall, illustrate values with examples.  If one of the organization’s values is Community, then it becomes everyone’s job to stop and greet each person who comes into the office. The value of Integrity explicitly becomes, We communicate our needs and expectations openly, and do not get angry at others’ failures to fulfill expectations we never clearly set.” As Lee writes, this has helped his organization avoid internal conflicts, since so much conflict is really communications failure.

Beyond individuals and organizations, Leach and Mazur discovered that leaders of successful movements share the principle of being “relentlessly explicit about values, principles, and practices.” Along with being flexible and embracing change, these leaders live the culture that they are creating, and reinforce the network culture through their actions. Leaders openly point out when they miss the mark, explicitly returning to the agreed upon values.

Unlike Mission and Vision, values come from within. How will you act? What can you do to ensure that you act the way that you hope you will?

In your organization, what do your values look like in action? Do you believe it’s important for a person to be able to provide for themselves? Then what do you do when you realize your full-time employees are on food stamps? If you honor confidentiality, what if a major funder requires the name of each student who receives reduced tuition as a condition of her gift?

In the world of coalitions and alliances, if you value civility in interactions among people, what is your response when the head of one organization undermines the authority of a peer?

As Lee points out, Values often sound great, but are not so easy to make concrete. Bringing everyone together and asking, “what does it look like in action” takes time, but it clarifies how you work together. It defines how you manifest your values in the work of your organization and your movement.

It is a worthy use of time at your next board retreat. What does your values statement say? What does it look like – in action?

More about organization and network values and planning – at the board and organization-wide level – at The Detwiler Group.

It’s February. Do you know where your strategic plan is?

It’s February. Do you know where your strategic plan is?

You probably spent time and money developing a strategic plan. Your board voted to approve it. Perhaps a board committee created it; maybe your executive director and senior staff.

Where is it now? That big report sitting on the shelf isn’t going to do your organization any good if it’s not a living document.

When did you last pull out the strategic plan and track your progress toward your goals?  When was the last time the board spent more than 10 minutes discussing that progress?

It’s a lovely plan, but…..

A plan without discrete steps, a timeline and accountability isn’t a plan. It’s a wish list. Here are a few tips for maintaining your progress, so that 3 years from now you can look back and say, “We did this!”

  • Make sure you have the will to accomplish the plan. This may seem obvious, but it’s often the first pitfall. “It’s a lovely plan, and really, this is what we want to accomplish. But…..we don’t have the money; the time; the people; the skills”…..whatever.  If you truly commit to the plan, then you find the money, the time, the people, the skills. It may not happen immediately, but it will never happen without making that commitment.
  • Make sure that someone is accountable for each step of the plan. They may not be the person who actually, physically does the work, but someone has to be on top of whether it happens or not. Otherwise, everyone thinks it’s someone else’s job.
  • Have those accountable people regularly report to the board. The entire board voted to move ahead with the plan; the entire board should be invested in whether the plan is being accomplished. If you have to report regularly, then you get it done. If it’s not done, then here’s your opportunity to talk about how to get back on track. 

“If anything is certain, it is that change is certain. The world we are planning for today will not exist in this form tomorrow.”  Phil Crosby

  • Regularly set aside time to discuss the overall progress, not just individual steps. Is the plan still relevant? Do new circumstances warrant changes? No matter how good your plan is, you can’t foresee everything that might happen in the course of three years. The government may cut funding. You may receive a huge bequest. Some new research may come to light.
  • Celebrate the milestones. It took a lot of work to craft the plan. It takes even more work to execute it. Recognize that work and what you accomplish. Tell your stakeholders about your progress. Let these celebrations create momentum to lead you to even higher heights.

Engage your board in keeping the strategic plan a living document. It may sit on a shelf, but it won’t get dusty. You’ll regularly reference it in board meetings, and watch the progress toward your goals. Potential board members will see your commitment, and want to be a part of your growth.

Theodor Herzl wrote,

“If you will it, it is no dream. And if you do not will it, a dream it is and a dream it will stay.

The first step is commitment. If you have the will, you can accomplish the rest.

A New Year’s Resolution for a Nonprofit President

A New Year’s Resolution for a Nonprofit President

This year, I resolve to stay focused on our cause and our mission.

  • In the past year, we have spent too many hours talking about finances.
  • We’ve spent too many hours focusing on what we lack.
  • And we’ve spent too few hours remembering why we care about this very worthy organization.

This year, I resolve to aspire to the greatest heights, instead of focusing on what we cannot do.

  • I will work with my peers to build a plan for achieving that aspiration.
  • I will work with my peers, staff, volunteers, clients, and community members to execute that plan.
  • And I will tell everyone about the plan, so they can join us in supporting this goal.

Because a vision without a plan is just a dream. An aspiration without the time, talent and treasure to make it a reality will never come about.

But first, I resolve to stay focused on our cause and our mission. Without that vision in front of us, we will once more spend our year focusing on what we lack, and not on what we can achieve.

Happy New Year! May this year be a year in which we all aspire to our highest heights.

Let me know what you’re planning for 2016! For help with that plan, or to find out more about our work in strategic planning, contact me at sdetwiler@detwiler.com.

“I lift my lamp beside the golden shore” Emma Lazarus

“I lift my lamp beside the golden shore” Emma Lazarus

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful.

I am thankful for the United States of America that welcomed my grandparents 100 years ago. Because they were welcomed, I am here, and able to build a life that allows me, my husband, my children and grandchildren to live freely.

I am thankful for the people who fought to allow Eastern European refugees to come to our shores. Because of them, we have had the privilege of receiving the work and wisdom of Albert Einstein and Madeline Albright.

I am thankful for the country that welcomed Marco Rubio’s parents, and Donald Trump’s mother, allowing the son of Cuban immigrants and the son of an Irish immigrant, to aspire to our country’s highest office.

I am thankful for the people who allowed Armenian refugees into our country. Because of them, we have the largest company in the world, Apple, which revolutionized electronics and was founded by Steve Jobs.

I am thankful for the officials who work to ensure that each person who comes to our shores is properly vetted, and for those in our military and police who defend the United States against those who seek to harm us.

I am thankful for a country that protects its citizens – and protects the values that have made our country the reason so many want to come here. 

And I am thankful for you, whether you work for, volunteer for, or sit on the board of a nonprofit. You deliver your mission by looking beyond the risks of today so you can create the future in which we all want to live.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

I give. Please join me! The case for nonprofit board giving.

I give. Please join me! The case for nonprofit board giving.

It’s that time of year. Nonprofit organizations are asking their board members for their annual financial commitment. Yet despite the obvious need of almost all organizations, according to one survey, an astonishing 55% of organizations reported that they did not have 100% board giving.”

But foundation executives and major donors expect 100% participation of nonprofit board members. In the words of an executive of Piper Charitable Trust,

“We wouldn’t consider a grant to an organization if the directors weren’t 100 percent in their giving. Why would we? If they don’t care enough for their organization to give to it, why should we?

There is no excuse for not making a financial contribution to any organization that you’re on the board of.

“But I give time! That counts for something!

Yes, your time counts for a lot! I am very, very grateful to all the leaders who give of their time so freely to work on the board. Our social sector absolutely could not function without the volunteers. Your labor, your thoughtful discussions, your planning are crucial to building the world we want to live in. The organizations that benefit our community rely on you. As a member of society, I am very grateful to you for standing up and being part of the fabric of our society.

Yet volunteers can give time without being on the board.  The difference is YOU are a leader. And leaders lead the way with their gifts, as well as their time. You, dear board member, lead the rest of the community by example – not just with your time, but with your treasure, as well.

“But not all our board members are financially able to give a lot of money!”

Wow. This is such a caring objection. It almost trumps the 100% giving mandate. I hear you – and I agree with you. Those unable to give a lot of money SHOULD be included on the board. A strong organization needs to have a wide variety of voices represented on the board. Those who are wealthy – and those who are not – bring unique and diverse perspectives.

But the 100% requirement doesn’t name a dollar amount. It just says that a board member should give. If board expectations are set appropriately when you first invite the new director, then the expectation is that each board member gives a personally meaningful gift. To a successful attorney, it might be personally meaningful to give a $10,000 annual gift.  To an early childhood teacher, that personally meaningful gift might be $100 per year.

A good rule of thumb is that while you are on the board of an organization, it is one of your top three or four philanthropies.

Leaders lead by example. Be able to say, “I give. Please join me.”

Would you like some help moving your board along the giving continuum? I’m happy to have a no obligation conversation! Reach me at sdetwiler@detwiler.com


 Susan Detwiler

Listen To Your Father

Listen To Your Father

My dad didn’t fish or play golf. The standard Father’s Day card was not really meant for him. Instead, he played a mean game of bridge and did the Sunday Times crossword puzzle in ink. He learned Spanish, so he could relate to the people he worked with in the NYC garment district. And his views on justice made me consider my own obligation to make the world better.

This Father’s Day, I want to honor the lessons we learned from our fathers. Every day, my nonprofit colleagues work to make the world a better place, so I asked them: What did you learn from your father, that you apply today in your work?

Fear of change is often a fear that we will fail at whatever it is that is new. That’s a lesson that Dennis Fischman learned from his father, that he now applies as he teaches his clients new concepts in social media.

From Lynn Calder, “My dad was a master at reading people and assessing work situations. He would determine the best approach to working with each individual.”

Loretta Donovan’s Dad taught her to appreciate loyal, hardworking volunteers. “He painted my elementary school; he fundraised for his high school into his 80s. His time and talents were contributed with enthusiasm.

Rebecca Henderson shared, Most people do the best they can with what they have, and when someone does a good job, tell them.”

Annette Sandberg had a wealth of stories about learning to appreciate yourself, imperfections and all; and at the same time, to listen to those around you, because “you can’t harmonize if you listen only to yourself.”

Notice a theme? Reading each response, I was struck by how my colleagues and I, each with very different backgrounds, have each been taught by our fathers to value the individual. To see each person for who they are. It is a trait that I see throughout the nonprofit sector.

As Lynn said about her own father, “Dad was kind to everyone and treated them with respect–from the lowest paid position to the CEO…everyone, whatever their title or position, has something of value to contribute in the workplace.”

Our fathers taught us to value each individual for themselves, and to allow them to contribute their gifts as they are able. This Father’s Day is a good time to appreciate our fathers as individuals, not just as our dads, and to acknowledge their gifts to us.

Happy Father’s Day. If you can, thank your Dad for his gifts. If not, then may this Father’s Day be filled with good memories.