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Organizational Values…Four questions to ask

Daniel C Olsen, Senior Consultant, SDAO

Everyone would agree that values are important to your organization. They help to shape your culture and provide foundational principle to guide your personnel in their actions and decisions.

However, are your values clearly understood by all your volunteers?

I suggest you ask your volunteers, individually, questions about the values of your organization. You may think this is relatively simple. I hope all of your personnel can quickly and easily answer these four questions. I suggest this in an effort to understand how well your volunteers understand the values at help shape your culture.

Here are the four specific questions to ask:

What are the values of our organization?

This should not be too difficult. Usually, the values are stated in annual reports, budget messages or posted on the walls of the station. How many do they remember? Usually, three to five values can be remembered. If you have more than five, members may not remember all of them.

Define and explain each of these values?

This can be more interesting because it illustrates their understanding of each value. Most should be able to concisely define each value.

Tell me when in the last month you demonstrated or practiced one of our values?

This one may cause an individual to have a strange look on their face. Most likely, they are not able to tell you when. It is not because they have not demonstrated the values, but they do not think about, or the question is not asked.

Tell me how well, as an organization, we are practicing these values on a day-to-day basis?

How do your volunteers see the values being consistently applied to all aspects of your organization on a regular basis. Everything from emergency response to treatment of volunteers to allocation of resources.

The reason for these   questions is to generate a dialogue with your members about the values and culture of your organization. More importantly, how transparent is your organization about the values you expect from everyone to practice.

Values guide our thoughts, belief, words, and actions. Our values tell who we are. An old friend once told me what his grandfather told him: “tell me who you are with, and I will tell you who you are.”


Values are mostly formed and imprinted in us when we are young. This is done by parents, teachers, coaches, and individuals we admire, respect, and want to emulate

Do we as a volunteer organization teach our members new values or do we attract volunteers to us because of sharing similar values? The answer is that we attract those people with similar values to our organization. You are more likely to retain volunteers who are emotionally connected to the values of the organization.

People will become dissatisfied if they see an organization that says one thing but does another. Inconsistency in practicing the values or applying them only in certain situations or for certain individuals causes problems.

When we are recruiting new members, it is important to them to understand the values your organization stands for.

When onboarding new members, it is important to clearly present the values of our organization and real-life situations or how we apply them to everyday life.

Incorporate reminders of your values into ceremonies, practices, slogans, and symbols which remind our members of their importance.

Once that is done, we must practice and reinforce the values by our word and deeds on a daily basis. We must remind our members on a frequent basis of what is important and what is expected of each and every member, regardless of rank, from the newest to most senior person.

This can sometimes be challenging both at the organizational and personal levels

With your values, make them come alive and not just a series of words which appear in documents. To do that, consider these guidelines:

1.     Be clear about your values and their meaning and application to all members.

2.     Be concise. Three to five can easily be remembered.

3.     Be relevant to the service you provide and how we function as an organization.

4.     Be consistent in exercising them in daily activities and practices of your organization. This includes application to the actions of all members, regardless of rank or seniority.

5.     Remind your volunteers of the values through acknowledging their actions that reflect the values. It should be timely as soon as you can. Telling them you genuinely appreciate their words and actions,