Program Officer John Fetzer shares the Foundation’s updated values that reflect our approach and aspirations.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That quirky phrase is passed around a lot in our sector. I like it because it’s a reminder that a group can have the best plans and ideas in the world, but the group’s way of acting together makes all the difference.

Values, to me, are the core of culture. They are the bedrock beliefs that guide your actions. Kevin Walker, our president and CEO, framed values as the beliefs “you’re willing to sacrifice for.”

In late 2019, the Foundation decided to revisit our organizational values, which were last updated 10 or 15 years ago. Our team discovered our values didn’t capture our current aspirations or morals—especially in relation to our diversity, equity, and inclusion commitment.

In early 2020, I joined a five-person task force charged with creating new values. At our initial meeting on Monday, March 9, 2020, we began mapping out how to approach the task. A few days later, we found ourselves in a completely different world.

Values statements are the steady principles that guide our actions.

On the morning of Thursday, March 12, I was preparing for a hastily scheduled team meeting to talk about the evolving COVID-19 situation in Washington State, the part of our region that was first to be hit hard by the pandemic. The meeting was our first attempt to grasp the disruptions and worries grantees were experiencing.

Then, that afternoon, we were called to a sudden all-staff meeting, where we learned that we had to cancel upcoming travel and begin working from home. At the end of that day, I was rattled. I wondered, What are we in for here?

The following weeks were a whirlwind for everyone. At the Foundation, we were distributing emergency grants while witnessing the rapid spread of the virus across our region. We saw injustices, including awful acts of racism toward Asians and Pacific Islanders (which affected several of my colleagues and their families) and long-standing inequities further exposed by the pandemic. Our May board meeting, the first since the onset of the pandemic, was incredibly heartfelt and raw as board members spoke about the effects of the virus in their communities, and staff shared what grantees were telling us.

“Our small values team found urgency and clarity in this moment. As the world spun out of control, what were the core beliefs that could ground our decisions? Values became more important than ever.”

The grief and turmoil of the initial months of the pandemic was soon amplified by the murder of George Floyd on May 25. Right in our own community, a police officer took yet another Black life, setting off a worldwide cry for justice.

These events could have overwhelmed us, causing us to freeze in place. And sometimes they did. But our small values team found urgency and clarity in this moment. As the world spun out of control, what were the core beliefs that could ground our decisions? Values became more important than ever.

We’re always aiming to grow, to be a better partner to our grantees.

Over the summer of 2020, we sorted through ideas. A cross-section of our grantee partners gave us particularly illuminating and helpful input. The Foundation ultimately agreed on six organizational values that distill not just who we are, but who we aspire to be:

SOCIAL JUSTICE

COURAGE

GRANTEES COME FIRST

LISTEN AND LEARN FOR CHANGE

TRUST

HEART

It’s easy to say you’re trying to do better, be better, as individuals and as an organization. With these values, we’re trying to capture not just what we believe, but how we want to act on those beliefs—internally and externally. 

  • When we assert that SOCIAL JUSTICE is one of our values, we’re speaking to how our work is fueled by an understanding of each individual’s inherent human rights. Our grantmaking, program-related investments, and public platform are ways we can use our privilege to make the world more just for everyone.
  • When we hold up COURAGE as our aspiration, we’re reminding ourselves to make active choices to disrupt patterns of injustice and inequity.
  • When we say GRANTEES COME FIRST, we’re acknowledging that their community-based successes are the heart of our mission.
  • When we highlight the need to LISTEN AND LEARN FOR CHANGE, we’re calling out that for us, listening is an active step toward supporting change through solutions that acknowledge and honor the communities we serve.
  • When we show up as employees of the Foundation, are we doing it in a way that exhibits TRUST, that values openness and transparency?
  • When we talk about the value we’re calling HEART, we’re really naming the passion with which we and grantee partners do this work—often in the face of huge forces working against us.

“It’s easy to say you’re trying to do better, be better, as individuals and as an organization. With these values, we’re trying to capture not just what we believe, but how we want to act on those beliefs—internally and externally. ”

These values are a blueprint for the future.

When we started rearticulating these organizational values, we were really clear about what we believe values are supposed to do—guide your decision making and push you to be the best version of yourself. That’s what we want as an organization and as people. 

“These values are really an expression of who we are as a Foundation, staff, and board, and as people,” says Lynda Bourque Moss, the chair of the Foundation’s board of directors. “They’re a living statement that can guide the work of the Foundation today and in the future.”

Hopefully having these values stated so clearly will guide big and small decisions. These values will lead us to a more powerful organizational culture, which in turn will help us be an even better partner to the organizations on the front lines of change in our region.

Author

John

John Fetzer

Program Officer, Northwest Area Foundation

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