What Do You Do with Your Organizational Values?

What Do You Do with Your Organizational Values?


18 October 2022


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


I’m one of those people who likes strategic planning. It exercises two parts of my brain that I seem to have some aptitude for: convergent thinking (analysis and interpretation) and divergent thinking (brainstorming).

An early exercise in strategic planning work is getting in touch with the WHY part. What’s the point? The purpose? What do I believe about the world that makes doing this work important? Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk Video is very dated now (from 2009) but remains inspiringly relevant. In it, Sinek says that when you start with what you believe, you attract people who believe what you believe.


One of the ways fundraising for conservation is different from fundraising for other types of nonprofits is that our natural constituency is not well-defined. We don’t all share exposure to a common medical experience or four years at the same university.

As a result, we often start our fundraising work by assuming we need to be convincing – as if the people we are reaching out to either disagree with us, don’t care, or both.

What if we started by assuming there are people out there who already believe what we believe? Who are already there? Who just haven’t heard of us yet? What if outreach was less about convincing and more about discovery?


What usually comes out of the strategic planning WHY exercise is a set of organizational values, or guiding principles. Most organizations have them. And most are inspiring. Here’s a sample (paraphrased) from an organization I worked with recently:

  • A personal connection with nature increases wellbeing for individuals and for our communities.
  • Natural resources enrich our communities, maintain the health of our environment, and increase our resilience to climate change. They are irreplaceable and their conservation is our highest priority.
  • Ecosystems are dynamic and require diligent, active stewardship.
  • Our collective responsibility to conserve the natural assets extends to future generations.
  • Decisions that are grounded in science are better decisions.
  • We are more effective when we are partnering with other organizations, including organizations that serve communities historically underrepresented in conservation efforts and access to the natural world.
  • There is both community benefit and personal reward in working together authentically and respectfully with passionate, thoughtful individuals to advance a common cause.


My question is this:

If statements like these represent the WHY of what we’re doing, and we attract people who believe what we believe by leading with the WHY, how are we using our organizational guiding principles to discover new supporters?


The other point Sinek makes in his TED Talk is that articulating your WHY is not easy because it comes from a part of the brain that is has no capacity for language. It often gets described in more emotional language like “it just feels right” or “gut instinct.”

That’s the same part of the brain that controls giving.


Does your organization have a set of guiding principles? How are you using them?

  • Can you tell a story that illustrates each one?
  • Do they drive annual primary communications messaging?
  • Are they used in recruiting new Board members? Staff?
  • Do you start each Board meeting, field trip, and/or organizational event with one of them?
  • Are they posted in your office?
  • Do they influence the content and storytelling in your appeal letters?
  • Are they part of your membership surveys?


I suspect that most of us are NOT using them at all. That they live in the Strategic Plan but are rarely considered after the plan is completed.

I suspect that we are reaching for talking about what we do instead. Leading with the WHAT. (Because it’s easier.)


And I wonder whether we could do better.


Love to hear your thoughts.


Cheers, and Have a great week!




PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.

Photo by Ted Erski courtesy of Pixabay.



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  • David L
    Posted at 08:59h, 18 October

    I like the question. I appreciate the question. Gonna ask that question of my board.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 09:14h, 18 October

      Thank you for your comment, David as always!