Your organization has adopted core values, but do they go anywhere beyond your boilerplate?

The purpose of core values is to guide the day-to-day conduct of those who work to carry out your organization’s mission. Your core values are also an essential element of your organization’s brand identity.

Often, there’s a disconnect between an organization’s purported identity and how it is actually perceived. As a communicator, you’re in a position to elevate these values for internal audiences (like employees, board members and volunteers) as well as donors, clients/recipients and other external stakeholders.

Three steps to elevating your organization’s core values

your core values can serve as clear signposts for conduct at your organization
“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”
― Roy Disney
Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

1. Help instill core values in your coworkers to strengthen organizational culture

Years ago, I managed communications for a nonprofit community health center that was growing rapidly, both in employee numbers and in the scope of services it provided. As an organization, we needed to simultaneously onboard new employees and orient veteran employees to new services with the goal of aligning everyone’s actions and attitudes with the organization’s evolving identity.

The center’s mission was fairly straightforward, providing health care to everyone regardless of their insurance or financial status. But what did that mean for day-to-day interactions, the myriad decisions and prioritizations that come into play throughout a patient’s visit?

To help get everyone on the same page, I launched an employee relations campaign focusing on our values, featuring one each month with interviews with leadership, a wall calendar for each employee’s workspace and a recognition program of employees who demonstrated these values: Employees could nominate a coworker who demonstrated a core value, and nominees were recognized at staff meetings and in employee communications.

It worked. New employees could consider their responsibilities through the lens of, “Is this compassion?” for example, and veteran employees who may have felt overwhelmed or concerned about how our shifting services might affect the organization could see that while what we were doing was changing, our identity was still rooted in the same values the organization had been founded on.

To sum up, here are a few ways to help integrate your organization’s values into employee culture:

  • Create an employee recognition program that encourages colleagues to notice when their peers demonstrate core values.
  • Work with human resources to include core values training into hiring and onboarding processes.
  • Feature core values in employee newsletters and staff meetings.
  • To build buy-in, engage employees rather than just communicating at them. Find champions to work with who can get the ball rolling with recognition nominations, interview them for the employee newsletter about what a particular value means to them, etc.
you are worthy of love
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

2. Let your clients and customers know what to expect

Be explicit in sharing your core values as an integral aspect of your brand identity. Go beyond just listing your core values in your boilerplate to lend context and to build trust.

It’s important that this step happens in conjunction with the first step, because it’ll make it all the more obvious if the actual experience doesn’t align with the expectation you set.

Here are a few simple ways to introduce clients, customers, volunteers and other audiences to your core values:

  • Create signs or posters with strong visuals to decorate your physical space where clients, customers and other members of the public visit.
  • Work with program staff to integrate values training into volunteer communications.
  • Develop graphics for social media that define and illustrate your core values.
  • If you have surveys or story banking tools to gather information about client experiences, integrate questions about whether they have experienced the demonstration of core values in their interactions with the organization. Not only does this help you identify areas that may need work in Step 1, they also can build a great foundation for Step 3: Integrating core values into your storytelling.
interview your clients about core values
Photo by Sam McGhee on Unsplash

3. Integrate your core values into your storytelling.

If your employees have internalized your core values and work each day to live them, and your clients come to you with the expectation of experiencing these values, you have a strong foundation for collecting stories that will help build connections among supporters who share these values and want to elevate them.

Nonprofit marketers can always benefit from writing prompts and content-generating ideas. Core values can be a great tool for tracking down stories as well as an excellent framework for contextualizing impact stories into the broader picture of an organization’s work.

Here are a few tips for incorporating core values into your storytelling, from collecting stories to planning content:

  • Modify existing tools (client survey, employee recognition nomination process, story banking submission form, etc.) to make it easy for people to identify and categorize when a value has been demonstrated and what impact it has had. Be sure to include ways to follow up with the person submitting this information so you can get additional context, request permission to use it in various forms, get photos, etc.
  • Integrate core values into your editorial calendar throughout the year. You can feature a value each month or spread them across the year.
  • Use core values as inspiration for your annual report content, from the theme for the entire year to a way to frame featured stories.
  • Video is a great way to build personal connection with your audience around core values. Core values resonate with your supporters emotionally, and can help connect individuals’ stories with the big picture of what you do.
  • Integrate your values in donor communications. Donors care just as much about the how as the what of your work, so use examples of how their support fuels work that aligns with your shared values.

If you’d like to build a campaign or content around your core values but don’t have the bandwidth, get in touch.

Featured Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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