The High Value of Your Nonprofit’s Values
I was delighted to participate as a steering committee in the Brooklyn Community Foundation’s inaugural Spark Prize, an exciting new grantmaking initiative. I was truly impressed with how the Foundation integrated its values into every aspect of this project and leveraged them as a strategic decision-making tool in the grant review process, so I asked their fabulous DIrector of Communications, Liane Stegmaier, to write about it. – Sarah Durham
This month, Brooklyn Community Foundation marks the third anniversary of Brooklyn Insights—an extensive Brooklyn-wide community engagement project launched shortly after our President Cecilia Clarke joined the Foundation, which ultimately produced a bold grantmaking strategy that has since garnered national recognition.
And coincidentally, on this anniversary we are announcing the recipients of our new Spark Prize—one of the Foundation’s highest-profile grantmaking efforts to date, awarding 5 outstanding Brooklyn nonprofits with no-strings-attached grants of $100,000 each in recognition of their service to Brooklyn, commitment to equity and justice, strong organizational values, and dynamic vision for the future.
While we’re often asked about the major themes surfaced through our 1,000-plus Brooklyn Insights’ community conversations, the core grantmaking strategies we’ve since focused on, or our new institution-wide Racial Justice Lens—in this blog, we’re going to focus on the set of values that emerged during Brooklyn Insights that not only helped the Foundation determine our new direction, but continue to guide us and inform new initiatives like the Spark Prize.
Of course, we knew three years ago that creating a community-led strategy might also lead us to change our mission statement and vision. But what we didn’t fully appreciate at the time was that while mission and vision are critical for moving us forward, strong institutional values are necessary to define who we are as an institution and how we hold ourselves accountable to these pursuits each and every day.
Over the six months of listening to Brooklynites tell us about the challenges they faced in their communities, the opportunities they saw for change, and the roles we as their Community Foundation could play, we also heard loud and clear a call for us to be a different kind of institution: one that wears its values on its sleeve, keeps the doors open, and always positions community voices at the fore of its work.
This call led us to articulate five new values for Brooklyn Community Foundation:
Courage. We believe in fearlessly identifying barriers to change and we fight for solutions that help overcome injustice.
Creativity. We believe that the power of imagination is greater than the challenges we face. We celebrate what works. We pursue the new. We learn as much from failure as we do from success.
Honesty. We are committed to being open and trustworthy in all we do and seek partners who share our values.
Collaboration. We believe in creating solutions together, harnessing the diversity of Brooklyn, and partnering with the community to spark change and produce results.
Respect. We believe in every resident’s dignity and basic human rights, and honor diversity of race, gender and background.
We’ve come to refer to these values at every test in our decision-making, we talk about them in our Board meetings, staff meetings, and annual staff reviews, and they’ve informed our ongoing racial justice and equity trainings.
And with the new Spark Prize, we are spotlighting the importance of strong values, and celebrating 5 Brooklyn nonprofits for their exemplary values-driven work. The first-ever recipients of the Spark Prize are Audre Lorde Project, Common Justice, Make the Road New York, MoCADA, and Neighbors Together.
A committee of approximately 30 Brooklyn civic, business and philanthropic leaders (including Big Duck’s own Sarah Durham!) selected the 5 organizations from an applicant pool of over 150. They were chosen on the basis of a 1,000 word essay, followed by in person interviews where each spoke to the role their values play in their organization and how they align with the Foundation’s values.
In their application, Audre Lorde Project stated that their values are rooted in transparency, wellness, transformation, cultural work and coalition building. “Collaboration with other social justice organizations is central to ALP’s intersectional, movement-building work.”
Make the Road wrote that their values are why their 19,000+ members shape all of their campaigns: “Our youth challenge oppression by naming the disparate treatment of black and brown, LGBTQ and immigrant young people …. Their passionate advocacy has resulted in huge movement victories.”
MoCADA is “a museum founded on principles of justice, equity, and inclusion….courage, creativity and collaboration are the key elements of our mission, vision and values.”
Neighbors Together’s work is “grounded in our belief in the dignity and potential of each person to be a vital part of creating a more just society” and its members have the courage “to fight for real and lasting solutions to overcome injustice.”
And last but not least, Common Justice highlighted each of their values in their application—demonstrating a deep connection between their values and the unique nature of their healing work between victims and perpetrators of violence:
Accountability. We are responsible for our actions, our words, our power, and our impacts. We know that accountability affirms the dignity and humanity both of those responsible and of those harmed, and we hold ourselves to the same high standards to which we hold others.
Transparency. We are transparent about our actions, our intentions, our options, and our decisions. We communicate with clarity and consistency with those impacted by what we do.
Transformation. We believe in the potential of all human beings to transform, heal, grow, change, and be resilient. We believe we all deserve individuals, communities, and institutions that support us in being our best selves.
Respect. We believe in the inherent worth, importance, rights, culture, and strengths of all people, and work to reflect and honor that in the way we behave toward others.
Purpose. We uphold the responsibilities and boundaries of our work because we are ambitious, hopeful, and outcomes-driven.
These 5 values send a powerful message, and are a primary reason Common Justice is receiving the Spark Prize in our inaugural year.
As nonprofit communicators, we are all very familiar with the adage “Show, Don’t Tell.”
Mission tells us what you do; values show who you are.