As we recounted in Part I of this blog, last October, we were able to get the whole team together for a staff retreat at our headquarters in Nashville. This was such a nice time for us all to be in the same place after so long working mostly remote, where most of our meetings for that year and a half plus were on a screen in little Zoom boxes.
We went over highlights from each of our departments, and planned the organization’s foreseeable future so that we could see how each of the puzzle pieces fit together for our team to provide our essential partners the support and resources they need to help more of their community members. We all got to connect on a personal level, and hopefully this is something we’ll get to do annually, especially now that our team is growing beyond Nashville, into our new Kenya office!
“The staff retreat not only helped me better understand the values of the employees, but also helped me integrate into the organization faster.”
–Ryan Kibble | 2022 Graphic Design and Marketing Intern
BRAINSTORMING OUR CORE VALUES
Before we arrived at the retreat, we read a few articles to prepare for how to think about our values: “How to Establish Values on a Small Team” and “Making Your Company Values Measurable.” We were also tasked with bringing one item that reminded us of one of the values we’d be reviewing. For example, I brought a little music box my brother bought me for Christmas one year, and connected it to how it brings me back to the basics to represent our value of dignity.
The goal of the exercise was to establish behaviors for each of our values to lay the groundwork for a code of conduct all of us can follow not only interacting with each other, but with partners, supporters, and anyone else who may be involved with Blood:Water. By talking through what each value really meant to us in small groups, we came up with a variety of options for a final review committee to create a list of key behaviors with some internal markers of how we can live those values out as an organization and as individuals.
For each of the four values sessions dispersed throughout the three-day retreat, we broke into three small groups facilitated by Jake, Nadia, and Aaron (each session we switched up who was in which group). We started out with five minutes brainstorming what the particular value meant to us and what words came to mind to explain it. Then, we spent fifteen minutes sharing the words we came up with and deciding which eight we liked the most, at which point we wrote our choices down on a big sheet of paper.
The harder part then, was deciding on behaviors that demonstrate the value. We spent twenty minutes brainstorming on our own, after which we talked through as a group again which three to five behaviors we liked the most, to be copied on another large sheet of paper. These had to be behaviors that someone else could notice a person doing, could be scored from good to bad, and were applicable to anyone in the organization no matter what department they are in.
After the full time had passed and each group recorded their choices, we came back together as a full staff, posted our papers on the wall, and shared what we came up with. Since we each had been given our own stickers, throughout the rest of the retreat we were tasked with voting for the five words and five behaviors we liked most among all the group’s answers for each value. A number of times, there were words chosen by multiple groups! It was so reassuring how much everyone contributed to the exercise, and how there were so many things we could point to where we felt these values were already regularly lived out in our organization.
Committee’s Final Decisions
Once we had all gone back home, a small committee was established to take all this information to distill into words and behaviors for each value as a code of conduct. At the end of January, they presented their findings to the rest of the team.
Mindy explains well what the committee set out to do: “At the end of the values exercise, we had around nine behaviors per value – created by three separate groups of staff members creating three behaviors each. We noticed in the values committee that many of these written statements communicated similar things, just using different wording.
Our goal was to evaluate the behavior statements along with their rankings (from the staff votes), and create three final behavior statements that combined the most essential components of the originals. In the exercise, each staff member brought their own unique perspective and experience to the original statements, and so the values committee worked hard to preserve the integrity of the spirit of the originals while also distilling them into a usable format.”
Below, we’ve laid out the results for each of the values. It’s interesting to see how the committee brought these ideas together cohesively, and exciting to be at an organization that takes these values so seriously.
Our Vision: To share in the joy of ending the WASH & HIV/AIDS crises – with our partners and in this lifetime.
Our Mission: Blood:Water is an international nonprofit that partners with African community-driven organizations to end water & HIV/AIDS health disparities through organizational strengthening & financial support.
Our Ends: Blood:Water exists so that people living in HIV/AIDS-affected communities in Eastern and Southern Africa have improved health and its partners have greater capacity to deliver long-term missional impact.
What Guides Us: Our Core Values
ASSOCIATED WORDS: Empathy | Diversity/Vibrant | Interdependent | Safe
Our definition: Ending the HIV/AIDS and water crises means seeing communities come together. It’s about teamwork and healthy relationships. It’s not just about what you can do; it’s about what we can do. Focus on the growth of a community, and its success will be for everyone.
We commit to creating a safe environment where vulnerability is met with empathy, and the well-being of people in all aspects is our highest priority.
We cultivate a diverse environment while staying rooted in our common mission.
We give space for healthy disagreement and opportunities for constructive feedback while honoring one another’s experiences and perspectives.
We maintain a sacrificial posture, placing others before self and remembering our part of the whole. We show up for one another, rewarding courage and offering grace for the missteps, with accountability.
“Community is the value we started the exercise with, and we found it challenging! We all discovered that there are so many aspects of community, and we value and appreciate different things about it. However, the exercise was a wonderful experience of determining which qualities we value the most, and which we wanted to hold ourselves accountable to as a team. We were so excited when we saw it all come together!”
– Liz Kelly | Annual Giving Manager
ASSOCIATED WORDS: Principled | Authentic | Trustworthy | Transparent
Our Definition: We do what is right even when it requires more work. We don’t cut corners. Ever. Our work is excellent; our relationships are honest; and our finances are clean because we believe in the mission and its life-changing impact on communities. We will always prioritize doing it right, and do what we say we will do. And when we fail, we will be honest about it, find a way to correct it, and learn from our mistakes.
We prioritize missional alignment and core values over short term gain, opportunity, or impulse.
We practice our core values, ensuring who we are internally is congruent with who we are externally.
We commit to honesty in our work so that what we write, say, and promote is sincere, trustworthy, and authentic.
We invite accountability by maintaining clear, transparent, and consistent procedures.
ASSOCIATED WORDS: Intrinsic worth | Value(d) | Ubuntu (“I am because we are”) | Respect
Our Definition: Working for basic health care can intrinsically foster dignity in a community. We want our actions and attitudes to do the same. When we tell someone’s story as he/she would want it to be heard, we honor the story. We are about inspiring people by sharing a humanized account of others, and therefore, being human to one another.
We proactively create an environment that protects the rights of our team members and promotes kindness and respect, while extending grace to everyone including ourselves.
We practice ‘ubuntu’ (“I am because we are”) by honoring each others’ humanity and intrinsic worth, seeing whole humans rather than only their struggles and deficiencies.
We work to empower and magnify the agency of the marginalized by cultivating equitable systems, policies, and practices that mitigate the influence of biases as well as real or perceived inequities created by power dynamics.
“I love how we were able to identify behaviors that demonstrate dignity within all aspects of the organization, not limiting it to outward-facing interactions. So important!”
– Liz Kelly | Annual Giving Manager
ASSOCIATED WORDS: Courage | Curiosity | Humility | Adaptability
Our Definition: We do excellent work, but we are not perfect. Our values demand that we be transparent with others about the challenges and lessons that we are learning. We value listening and being willing to be wrong. Being teachable shows that we are less interested in our own pride and more concerned about the best interest of the mission. Our transparency doesn’t compromise the confidence of a donor; it builds it.
We practice a humble posture with self-awareness while giving and receiving feedback, nurturing the freedom and courage to try, fail, learn, and move forward.
We continuously adapt to new information for best practices, committing to reflection and review, remaining unafraid to correct course.
We cultivate fearless curiosity and an eagerness to grow, inviting opportunities to listen and learn from others.
“Teachability was another value that was more difficult to figure out! We found so much overlap between teachability and other values. I am pleased with how we kept at it until we were able to distill our thoughts into a great list of words and behaviors to exemplify.”
– Liz Kelly | Annual Giving Manager
ASSOCIATED WORDS: Implicated | Ownership | Accountable | Stewardship
Our Definition: There is a message of repentance that we accept because the world isn’t how it should be. The way we live affects the way others live. Once we are aware, there is a responsibility to live that out. First, we own the problem. And then, we own the solution.
We take ownership of our mistakes and implicate ourselves in the work of finding solutions.
We maintain awareness of our impact on the present and future of Blood:Water, holding ourselves and each other accountable as we share the burden and privilege of stewarding the organization’s resources, health, and mission.
We obey the command to love our neighbor by taking action and participating in the stewardship of human flourishing.
“Far too often, the word ‘responsibility’ is understood as tying only to the direct actions of an individual. But when we seek to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, we see that we are implicated in every aspect of the world because we are to bring the light and love of Jesus to the world. Therefore, we are responsible to act, even when the situation wasn’t caused by our actions or inactions. These powerful truths are a big part of why I am honored to be a part of the Blood:Water team. As individuals here and now, we may not be the cause of the crises in other parts of the world, but we are responsible to make a difference. That is a value I can get behind.”
– Liz Kelly | Annual Giving Manager
PUTTING THESE INTO PRACTICE
Though we were really proud of the ways we already saw each other living out each of these values on a day-to-day basis, it was so helpful to really sit down and decide as a group to reaffirm our commitment to them and define what they really are. I know that in my time at Blood:Water, I did have a general sense of our values, and absolutely understood the respect and collaboration that every team member exemplifies in a way that made me want to stay on after my internship. However, until we did this exercise, I only vaguely understood the true meaning of these pillars of our organization to us as a whole, and how we each play a hand in making sure these are lived out.
“As an organization, we want to move beyond having values on a wall and words in a document to taking an actionable approach when it comes to living out our values both externally and internally. By having the team collaboratively identify the specific ways and behaviors in which we live out our values day to day, we create shared accountability around our interactions with each other and the culture we are seeking build at Blood:Water.”
– Jake Smith | Executive Director
I am grateful to be a part of a team that operates with the utmost ethics and transparency everywhere we can, even if it means asking ourselves if the way we’re doing things even meets the standards we claim to hold ourselves to and deciding on a bunch of new ways we can be better. Thank you for coming alongside us in this journey.