Giving Voice to Values – Action Research on Donor Relationships

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.” www.valuescentre.com

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

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