Young people increasingly prioritize working for, buying from, and involving themselves with companies and organizations that align with their values [1], [2]. Values are important for associations, too, creating the foundation of strategy and providing clear expectations around behaviours and decision-making.  

I know first-hand the consequences of not having defined values. An association I volunteer with did not define its values at the outset, eventually leading to conflict between members about what they assumed was important to them based on their own values. If this association had defined its values from the beginning, perhaps the conflict could have been avoided, as everyone would know from the beginning what the association valued and not acted on their own assumptions. 

Here are a few reasons you might want to define your association’s values.    


What are values? 

Similar but different from the mission and vision of an association, values are the core beliefs, principles, and philosophies that guide an association’s ethical decision-making and influence culture. While the mission is about the purpose of the association (who we are), and the vision is about the association’s future (where we are going), values are all about the question, what do we stand for?  


Values build culture 

Association culture is a shared set of assumptions or beliefs that inform the team’s actions. Culture influences how people within an association interact with each other and external partners. But how do you build and communicate that culture to members and other partners? Your association’s values can help. They are a good starting point to unite your team around common core beliefs and clearly define what is important to the organization and members who are part of it.  

Values can also help attract others with the same values to your association. In the association I volunteer with, if our values had been defined, maybe we would have been better able to attract members that aligned with each other rather than members that got into a conflict over different ideas of what should be important to the association.  

Learn more about utilizing values to serve association members in Valuegraphics: How can it Help Your Association?  


Values demonstrate transparency  

Your association members and partners want to know what they are investing in when they commit themselves to your association. Being transparent about what your association believes in helps others build trust in your association and encourages open dialogue and sharing. Having value statements demonstrates this transparency, putting it all on the line: this is what we believe in and what we are holding ourselves accountable to uphold.  


Values guide strategic direction and priorities. 

Values can help you decide what to focus on and the direction you want to go as an association. Strategic planning includes working on your mission, vision, and your values. Deciding what is important to your association can help you decide which actions to take, or they can help clarify the reasoning behind your strategy. When your association’s values are clearly defined, they can help bring everyone together to work towards the same goal.  

For more information on strategic planning, read How to Elevate and Streamline Your Association’s Strategic Planning Sessions and Readiness – Is Your Board Ready to Think Strategically? 


Values guide behaviour and decision-making.  

Value statements are tangible, practical statements that affect and guide behaviour and decision-making in your association. They tell your members, staff, board, and partners what behaviour your association deems acceptable and which behaviours are not. Value statements are for when you come up against conflict or a difficult decision, and you’re asking the question, what do we do?  

Values also help give people within your association expectations for how to act. Clear expectations encourage the behaviour you want to see and a standard of conduct for addressing behaviour that doesn’t align with your association.  

These are a few benefits of defining your association’s values. Once you’ve defined your association’s values, it’s time for the next step: living them out.