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~March 2002~
  • Defining the Core Values of Your Organization

The Board Retreat
Third Step: Defining the Core Values of the Organization

(See the January and February 2002 Boards and Committees for More on Board Retreats)

In order to plan for the future and make decisions based on principle, it is important for an organization to define its core values. These values form the foundation that supports the organization's mission. Without them, the organization could neither serve its clients appropriately nor be worthy of its tax-exempt status and the support of its donors and volunteers.

In the February Boards and Committees, we discussed how to review the mission of the organization. Following that review, there can be a discussion based on the question, "What are the core values of this organization?"

In order to help people get started, the facilitator may come prepared with a list of a few values that might be appropriate to the organization. For example;

  • An organization serving the handicapped might value independence, education and confidentiality
  • A community center might value accessibility, community focus and customer service
  • A volunteer center might value collaboration, mutuality and community service

The values the facilitator mentions may not ultimately be among those selected by the group, but it is a way to help the group realize what is meant by the word "values".

The facilitator will ask people to break into small groups of 3 or 4 to look at the list and add to it. After giving people a little time, the facilitator will ask each group for one of their values words and list them on a flip chart. Each group will report in turn until all words that the groups chose are listed. When everybody has added his or her words, the facilitator will ask each person to decide individually which five values are the most significant for the organization.

After a little time, the facilitator will go through the list, and by a show of hands find how many people chose which words as one of their top five. A consensus usually will emerge as to which words are the most important. There may be more than five words, and that is fine. Sometimes there are some spirited and interesting debates as people passionately discuss why one word is more important than another. This is healthy because it demonstrates personal conviction and reaffirms commitment to the organization.

Then as the retreat moves forward, whether it is a strategic planning retreat or a board development retreat, the decisions made can be based on agreed-upon values. This brings the group together and helps it base its decisions on mission and values rather than emotion, personal relationships or bias. It also will provide criteria for future board meeting decisions. These core values can be posted on the wall in the board room and referred to as the board considers issues. They depersonalize and objectify deliberations and help people come to consensus.

Jeanne H. Bradner

Jeanne H. Bradner is an author, consultant, trainer and speaker on volunteerism, board development and leadership. She is the author of three publications, Passionate Volunteerism, The Board Member's Guide, A Beneficial Bestiary and Leading Volunteers for Results: Building Communities Today. She served as director of the Illinois Governor's Office of Voluntary Action, Midwest Regional Director of ACTION, and Executive Director of the Illinois Commission on Community Service. She is the volunteer program specialist for Illinois' Harper College Volunteer Management curriculum.

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Copyright 2002 by Nancy Macduff.