High Impact Organizations – the missing piece

Over the past several weeks, I have been reading and absorbing the book Forces for Good: the six practices of high-impact nonprofits by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant (published by Josey-Bass, 2012).  Through their research they realized that there were six practices that all of the organizations they were working with had in common.  These common threads propelled the organizations to success and had a true impact in their communities, whether it be local or global.

There is much in this book that organizations can take away and adapt for their own practices.  The six practices discussed are:

  • Advocate and serve – have the greatest impact through changes to legislation, in partnership with direct programming
  • Make markets work – doing well (financially) by doing good (through socially responsible programming)
  • Inspire evangelists – cultivate those who believe in your organization to build momentum in the community about your cause
  • Nurture non-profit networks – work collectively and collaboratively for greater impact
  • Master the art of adaptation – be aware of what is going on in the environment around you and ensure flexibility in your operations to adjust to those changes
  • Share leadership – share power with others; it is not just the CEO’s responsibility to steward impact and change

A number of these practices connect directly with the work I have been doing in the area of sustainability and advocating for a balanced approach to operations.  However, I believe that Crutchfield and McLeod have missed a fundamental piece of the puzzle:  the importance of an authentic, clearly articulated and lived, Values Statement.

The authors mention the need for values, vision, and mission statements, but the discussion centres on the connection of these statements to the marketing of the organization. Though an organization’s strategic statements have a role to play in the positioning of the organization from a communications perspective, the potential power of the statements goes well beyond marketing.  A Values Statement expresses how the organization and its staff, board, and volunteers interact with each other, their communities, and how they conduct their work.

A values statement is a declaration of the core beliefs of an organization; it states what the organization stands for and what those who work with, and for, the organization can expect.  Values do not change over time, and should align with the personal values of those working for the organization.

The importance of coming together to uncover your organization’s values is an essential step in developing an organization’s strategy.  It is truly the starting point for determining what you can accomplish and the impact that you can have in the world.  But it is hard work.  Getting down to the true, authentic values, is about stripping away what I call the ‘givens’, those words or phrases, such as respect or honesty, that if you have to write them down then there is something wrong.  If you have to be reminded to be honest, then there are larger issues you need to deal with as an organization.

So, what do you really believe in?  What does your organization stand for?  What defines your organization?  What can your communities expect when they work with you and your team?

When exploring high-impact organizations, I would add a seventh practice, which would go right at the top of the list, and that would be the inclusion of a ‘Lived Values Statement’.