Giving Voice to Values: Action research project on donor culture of arts organizations

Research by Pam Simmons APR, CFRE and Martin Itzkow, FRSA (UK), NLP, M.Pract.

Executive Summary

Over a six-week period beginning late May 2017, a pilot participatory action research project took place looking at donor relationships in arts and culture organizations. The study was conducted with Winnipeg, Manitoba arts organizations using Barrett Values Centre (BVC) methodologies[1]

The project, funded by ArtSupport Manitoba (Artspace Inc.), tested BVC tools and used an approach to demonstrate that a shared exploration of donor core values plays a significant role in donor relationships and gift giving.

BVC methodology and values tools including (customized) worksheets developed by the researchers were tested in a three cafés with donors and a large arts organization. The café methodology is a progressive deliberate dialogue that provides a reflective process through which we can collectively identify and address organizational challenges, and then provide solutions to improve performance.

Café 1 involved a general group of arts donors who gave major gifts (over $1,000 over a three-year period to an arts organization). Café 2 and 3 involved one large arts organization. Café 2 was the organization’s donor group and Café 3 involved organizational staff responsible for fund development functions including the CEO.

It is widely recognized that values based decision-making[2] is one of the better ways to demonstrate organizational awareness of the espoused values of the organization. Our primary assumption in this project is that when donors understand and explore their core values, their culture, and how organizations provide relevant information to them about living and aligning its espoused values, we will understand how donor relationships may be strengthened. For our purposes “culture” is values, beliefs, assumptions, ways of thinking, traditions, and routines and structure (organizational processes), systems, and practices).

Research in this area using Barrett’s Value Centre tools is still very new and unexplored in any depth both with donors and charitable organizations. From our limited pilot study, it was evident that more values action research was required to more fully understand how a discussion of values could strengthen donor-organizational relationships.

Lessons Learned through the Donor Culture Action Research Project  

1. A values lens used as a basis for engagement and connection between donors and the organization can strengthen the organization’s practice of donor stewardship.

2. Donors may become more attached and aligned with the organization, if and when their core values (identified and defined based on being lived) are understood and validated by the organization.

3. A successful donor engagement formula is as follows:•    By being mindful of your donor’s core values, you can strengthen the emotional and intellectual connection to the organization and its mission;•    When you strengthen the connection between the donor and the organization, the donor has a deeper sense of belonging.•    This deeper sense of belonging encourages a donor to release their “differential positive” energy, which contributes more than the usual amount of energy needed to support the organization’s endeavours.

4. Donors may continue to sustain and or increase their financial support to the organization, if and when the organization pays attention to donor core values and intentions, both positive and potentially limiting.

5. Being mindful of a donor’s core values is important as it brings forward increased emotional, intellectual capacity, and connection of the donor to the organization supported, which in turn may provide a deeper sense of belonging and attachment of the donor to the organization, both short and long-term.

6. The use of donor value engagement may act as a strong connection to the organization and community it serves by allowing access for the donor to contribute in more ways, including to improve organizational innovation and performance.

7. Organizations must be willing to invest and support a consistent donor engagement/stewardship process (using values identification and organizational alignment tools and methods) to achieve results that strengthen, and sustain the attachment of donors to the organization, its mission and desired long-term results.

8. The Barrett Values Centre Organizational Assessment Tools, in particular Cultural Transformation tools such as the Organizational Cultural Values Assessment tool can be useful applications for the measurement and transformation of an organization’s relationship with its donors.

9. An important approach to ensuring the transformation of the organization’s relationship with donors is to make its culture visible and measurable. Mapping the underlying causal factors that promote or inhibit its overall donor relationship performance, efficiency and quality, and ultimately its health is a critical step in the transformation of the donor-organization relationship.

10. In order to motivate and focus attention on the donor culture, it will be important to assign the role of donor/organizational culture “Champion” to a senior leader of the organization who would be skilled and motivated to apply the values approach to engaging and measuring the cultural health of the donor relationship with the organization.

[1] The Barrett Values Centre is an global organization headquartered in London, U.K. with the following statement of purpose: The Barrett Values Centre developed methodology and a range of cultural transformation tools which assist their consultants to map the consciousness (level of awareness) of leaders, organizations and communities all over the world. “We believe that organisations work better when their leaders are focused on building values-driven cultures that benefit their people, their customers and all sectors of society. We believe that when you measure your culture you can manage it.”

[2] Barrett, Richard, The Values Driven Organization, Cultural Health and Employee Well- Being as a Pathway to Sustainable Performance (2017)


twitterlinkedinrssby feather
twitterby feather

Help your volunteer group to succeed

Flowing Assiniboine River looking for a new day
Find the source where volunteer energy first flowed

Volunteer groups, especially membership or organized volunteer groups within non-profit organizations often face a critical do or die decision while struggling with some of these issues:

• Dwindling membership – Does this mean we have outlived our usefulness?
• Reduced fundraising revenues – Will this be a downward spiral?
• Aging members – How do we attract new members and create a way for aging members to remain gracefully?
• Programs – Why are our programs attracting less interest and participants?
Work now performed by paid staff– Are we not be trusted to do this fulfill this role?

How can you turn an organization around that faces these struggles? I believe you must first go to the core where the energy first flowed.

I believe you must first go to the core where the energy first flowed.

Most non-profits could not exist without the involvement of volunteers.
The organization’s strength and credibility come from increasing and retaining volunteers and their role as advocates for the organization. Frequently groups believe they have no other recourse than to call it quits.

Here is a way to overcome this problem:
Start by gathering the group to answer the question:

Why did you join the organization in the first place?

Let everyone give their reason or explanation, list them on a chart for all to see. This discussion will energize the group.

Then remind people what volunteers bring to an organization

Credibility. Volunteers have a credibility that paid staff or consultants could never have. Volunteers can freely talk about the group and promote it with others. Volunteer stories are more believable to outsiders. Volunteer involvement demonstrates that the organization is worthy of support. (An engaged volunteer group is a good barometer of the health of an organization.)
It’s a personal choice. Volunteering is not a job; rather it is a personal decision, one that includes a healthy dose of self-interest and desire to help an organization succeed.
Public Relations/Ambassadors. The organization will always need to engage a wider group of supporters the involvement of volunteers essential. Volunteers have the potential to stimulate substantial support of programs and activities in the community.
Leadership. Volunteers lead the way. Volunteers create new services and programs and address unmet needs. They back off when it is successful enough to require full-time help. Volunteers were the first source of labour in the organization and created many of the paid positions.

To overcome these struggles, make plans to address the recruitment and retention of new members. Also, learn the hundreds of ways the group can be energized through fundraising. That’s in the next blog.

twitterlinkedinrssby feather
twitterby feather