May 29, 2018

How are organizational values and personality different?

When developing a nonprofit’s voice it’s important to distinguish between how the organization wants people to feel versus what principles and beliefs guide decision-making. In this episode of the Smart Communications Podcast, Farra Trompeter, Big Duck’s VP, defines brand personality and organizational values, plus shares examples and tips for using each tool successfully in nonprofit communications. Tune in!


Sarah: So, I’m here today with Big Duck’s fearless vice president, Farra Trompeter. Hey, Farra.

Farra: Hey, Sarah.

Sarah: I’m excited to talk about this topic with you today. Farra wrote this great blog called, “The difference between your non-profit’s personality and its organizational values.” We’re going to dig into that topic today and we’ll also link to Farra’s article in the show notes so you can have a little bit more information on this topic there. So, just to kick this off, Farra, why’d you write this piece? Why did this piece need to come into existence?

Farra: Sure. Well, according to this great book you wrote several years ago, Brandraising, we talk a lot about the concept of personality and positioning, but we haven’t spoken as much, I think, on our blog and some of the things we’ve written, about values. They come up a lot when we’re working with our clients on how to really clarify and determine your brand and bring it to life. I felt like we oftentimes hear in conversation with our clients and other non-profits we talk to in workshops about confusion related to them, and that some people often think what we would define as a personality, they think of as value, and vice versa.

Sarah: Okay, so let’s break down those concepts and make sure we’re giving a good, clear definition of each first, and then we’ll talk about why that is. First, personality. How would you define an organization’s personality?

Farra: Sure, personality is the tone and style of an organization. In essence, how it really wants to make people feel about themselves. Every organization, just like every person, has a personality. When it come to branding, what we want is for organizations to think intentionally about how they want to make people feel, and use that personality, not just to define its communications, but also to help distinguish itself amongst its peers.

Sarah: Yeah, and we often, when we’re working with clients, really try to push them to move away from stereotypical adjectives and attributes, like, respectable, credible. Every organization should be that, right?

Farra: Innovative. That’s my favorite one that I have to say, “You can’t be innovative.” Not that organizations can’t be innovative, but what does that even look like and feel like? Every non-profit wants to be seen as innovative, or established, or credible. Those are great things, but what we want to do is find things that are unique to you, and that really paint a picture in someone’s mind.

Sarah: We do this process here called the brandraising intensive, where we actually develop brand strategies with our clients over the course of the day. In some of those meetings that I’ve sat in on, some of the most exciting personality words are really very gutsy. There was one I was in recently where I think fierce came up. We’ve had menschy. What are some of the other more distinguishing words?

Farra: Yeah, we had another client in the Jewish space use heimish, which is a word that means cozy and warm. But I think using that instead of a word like Jewish, taking a word that really represents that culture is a great example of a personality word.

Sarah: And also a nice opportunity for an organization to try to express something that their peers or other organizations might not be comfortable expressing. So personality is a way that you can start to write, and design, and communicate, speak, hopefully, in kind of a distinguishing way, right?

Farra: Yeah. It’s one thing to want to be seen and felt as fierce, and bold, and vibrant. It’s another to really express that in everything that you do, and what we really want to do in the intensive, and in our brandraising process, is first define what it is you want to be seen as. I often think about personality as having one foot in the aspiration and one foot in the authentic. It’s really who we are on our best day. How do we want people to feel about us when we’re really rocking it? Maybe that’s at our gala, or some other moment in time where we know that’s us. How do we capture that and then clarify that that is who we want? Make sure it has to be rooted in who we already are, and then really just put that through everything that we do. From our name, logo, tagline, into our next Facebook post, the subject line of our email, et cetera.

Sarah: So, how is that different from values? What are values, and how do those come into play for a non-profit trying to communicate effectively?

Farra: Yeah, so one of the things I think I said in the blog is, in essence, if personality is really how we want to make others feel, values really speak to who we are, and what we’re really all about. We define values as, in essence, the principles that guide our decision making and our key beliefs, so that when a choice comes in and we’re trying to figure out how we should respond to something, we look at our values. Or, there is a moment when we’re debating about hiring two candidates, we look at our values. Who is most likely to embody those values? So, values are, in essence, the guiding principles for how we live our lives, and our organization, where personality is, again, the way we want to make people feel.

Sarah: Just to break down values a little bit more, if you go on the Big Duck website, in About Us we list our values there. One of our values is being direct. So, we use that in terms of how we communicate with each other internally, but also how we work with clients, partners, vendors, et cetera. So, directness is a value because it’s a belief or a guiding principle, as opposed to one of our personality attributes, which might be friendly, which is more tone and style. But those things are kind of related, don’t you think?

Farra: Yeah, I think, again, how we even, the way we write our values statements I think is a great expression of our personality. So, that’s in some ways where they get linked. I think that … Sometimes people ask me, “Which comes first?” In our process, in essence, we want to understand what your values are as we’re defining your branch strategy of positioning and personality, but we don’t look at the written expression of those values until later in the process.

So, all organizations, just like they all have a personality, whether or not they’ve defined it, they also have values. There are things that guide who an organization is. I like to say that you and I are both members of boards. I like to say, a good set of values, you know that if the organization was ever to stop operating under one of those values, you’d question if you’d still be on their board, or you’d be a donor, or you’d even be on staff to that organization.

You don’t have to have a million values. I think three to six, usually, is a good number. Basically same with personality. You want them to be simple enough that people can remember them, and that people can actively use them. One of my other favorite values that Big Duck has, I love all of our values, but one of my favorites is pragmatism. I take that really in our everyday work with our clients, and even in trying to figure out if we can take on a certain project with a prospect, and really trying to say, “Are we going to be able to do good work here?” And when we’re making recommendation, not only do I think this is a good idea, but do I think this is a good idea for this organization, with its audience, with its budget, with its staff capacity. And really being realistic, and making sure something is the best, but keeping all those nuances in mind.

Sarah: So, values often, if they are articulated and codified in a non-profit, we see that happening around strategic planning, or around moments of bigger organizational development and reflection, whereas personality is usually a part of a branding process, whether it’s a brand articulation, or brand refinement, but we put that in a brand strategy phase. Those two things are related, but a little bit different. So, we’re talking about how values often come first, or maybe are there first, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Is that fair to say?

Farra: Right. Yeah, in fact, we just worked with an organization who didn’t have a written articulation of values, so they are leading a board conversation and doing a survey among their staff to figure out what the ideas are that really are the essence of how they do their work. Then, as they define what those values are going to be, and then write out sentences that define them. So, most values … Sometimes you see an organization just list three or four words. Often, though, as in the case with Big Duck, as well as many of our clients, there is a statement or a word that then follows, a sentence that follows defining it.

So, using the personality to say how we’re going to infuse that. So, in the blog that I wrote, we talk about Auburn. Auburn has one of their personality traits as loving, and then they have a value about celebration, and how they define that celebration you can see the hint of the loving tone come through.

Sarah: That’s great. Yeah, it seems like there are definitely places where values and personality might both be useful or applicable. For instance, I think you mentioned, if you’re hiring somebody, do they embody the values of your organization, but also do they have a personality that sort of feels like the personality you want the organization to reflect?

But, then there are other places where maybe they don’t overlap. I could imagine if you were an executive director writing a speech for your gala, or for a big event you were going to do, you’d definitely want to use your personality. You’d want to make sure that the personality of the organization came across loud and clear. You might or may not use your values in crafting a speech.

Farra: Right. Where that might come in in that example may be as in honorees for the gala. Let’s say people are debating whether they should give this corporate sponsor, or this individual donor, or this program participant an award. You might look at your values to say, “Who embodies it?” Or if there’s a question, you might go to your values to make that decision, but the speech, or the experience of the gala is really going to be defined by the personality.

Sarah: Great. So, why do you think they get confused?

: Well, I think a lot of times the words that we might use in our values, and use in our personality are often similar. I make a comment, like the word collaborate is often a word that shows up in personality traits, but for example, collaboration is one of Big Duck’s values. I think there are certain words that might show up on both lists, but it’s really how you’re using them that are different, and it’s important.

Again, with a recent client, I mentioned this in the blog, we had a good discussion about kindness, and how kindness was really differentiating for them among their peers in a really important way that they operate. But as we got into what that kindness was about, it was clear that it was a value. But what that meant is the experience of working with them felt warm and supportive, so we needed to capture that in the personality.

So, I think you can talk about both, but just remember how you’re using them. Personality’s supposed to be useful for us in making decisions related to communications, where values are supposed to be important in making decisions related to programs and day-to-day experience. What we’re doing as an organization, who we are.

Sarah: So, we might, I mean, here at Big Duck and many of our clients use values as a way to assess staff if you’re doing a staff review, or you’re trying to navigate a conflict. If there’s a disagreement about something, you might turn to your values and say, “How would our values help us navigate this conflict?” Whereas personality is a communications tool. It might be used by everybody in your organization as they speak or write, but it’s really more like how they want to come across externally.

Farra: Right.

Sarah: It’s a little bit more about comms.

Farra: And maybe even a little bit internally because, again, in that situation, if I have to have a conversation with one of my colleagues based on the values where I’m trying to navigate a conflict, I might think about the personality and how I deliver that. Even though we use personality to guide the external expression of who we are, it also should be lived internally. How I communicate with you on a day-to-day basis, or with anyone else here, should also hopefully be somewhat representative of personality, we just may not think about it as actively as we do in our external experiences and events and communications.

Sarah: Great. Alright, well, thank you for joining me here today and using our value of collaboration to collaborate with me on this podcast.

: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.