Core values are for you, not everyone else

Core values are an essential part of your organization, your brand. Many of you have seen these in action at your organization, but what are they really and how do these values build a stronger internal brand?

Written BY

Sarah Obenauer

Sarah is the Co-founder of Purpose Craft. She runs Make a Mark, 12-hour design and development marathons benefitting local humanitarian causes. She also publishes Limitless, built to create a community of women surviving and thriving with Rheumatoid Arthritis. She has been working with nonprofits and purpose-driven organizations and businesses for nearly a decade.

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October 29, 2020

Core values are an essential part of your organization, your brand. Many of you have seen these in action at your organization, but what are they really and how do these values build a stronger internal brand?

Core values are terms that reflect who your organization is today and which qualities you wish to maintain as you grow and evolve. They are not aspirational concepts that you want your organization to achieve one day or attributes that you want to force on your team members.

You’ll see core values proudly spotlighted on a website or showcased on the wall of an office. There is nothing wrong with this display, in fact, that can provide daily inspiration, but core values should be developed not to impress other, but to build up the internal team.

Core values can be action items like embrace adventure, create something great, or be honest. Or they can be more descriptive terms like socially conscious, passionate, people driven.

Red My Lips is an international nonprofit organization designed to raise visibility and awareness about the realities and prevalence of sexual violence, while combating rape myths and victim-blaming. They have core values like fierceness, safety, patience, and creativity.

Canva is a simple, online design tool making the implementation of basic design assets, like social media posts, a breeze for organizations with a small budget. Their core values include be a force for good, empower others, pursue excellence, be a good human, make complex things simple, and set crazy big goals.

Back in 2016, we worked together to develop six core values at Make a Mark to represent who we are as makers, nonprofits, and a community:

Be authentic — we don’t pretend to be anything we are not to get additional attention or funding.

Be passionate — the organization wouldn’t exist without people who are passionate about their nonprofits and passionate about their craft in design, development, photography, video, and beyond.

Be generous — everyone involved with Make a Mark is giving of their time. Our nonprofits are also generous in their lives because of their hard work to solve our world’s biggest problems.

Be creative — creativity is at the center of the organization. We want to solve problems in a creative and unique way that truly works.

Be collaborative — our events and efforts happen because makers and nonprofits collaborate openly with one another. We also collaborate with different organizations and communities to make the magic happen.

Be committed — we work with people who are committed to growing as creative humanitarians.

Core Values Exercise (in-person)

If you don’t have existing core values or are starting fresh, give this exercise a try. Gather everyone together in one room.

As a group, start by identifying a collection of people within your organization who epitomize your purpose. This might be a dedicated employee, an energetic intern, or a committed donor. This group doesn’t have to be those who run your organization, just those who best represent who you are.

Next, start telling stories about those individuals, why they are important to the organization, why you admire them, etc.

After you’ve shared a variety of stories, identify which values are present in those people. What values drive their behavior? Outline these on an easel pad where everyone can see them.

Now, start circling those values that you want to keep and mark out those that you want to remove. This will likely be a lengthy discussion with everyone. Discuss how these potential values fall in line with your purpose, vision, and mission. You want to land on somewhere between four and eight core values.

Core Values Exercise (virtual variation)

This exercise can also be done virtually. When you meet remotely, start by identifying a collection of people within your organization who epitomize your purpose. This might be a dedicated employee, an energetic intern, or a committed donor. This group doesn’t have to be those who run your organization, just those who best represent who you are.

Next, start telling stories about those individuals, why they are important to the organization, why you admire them, etc.

After you’ve shared a variety of stories, identify which values are present in those people. What values drive their behavior? Record these in a shared document.

Star or bold the values that you want to keep and mark out or italicize those that you want to remove. This will likely be a lengthy discussion with everyone. Discuss how these potential values fall in line with your purpose, vision, and mission. You want to land on somewhere between four and eight core values.

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