Choosing Gelato and the Value of Values

I tried a new gelato café that opened riverside in my town in the Fox Valley this weekend and had to make a difficult choice from about 35 amazing flavors. Do I take a risk, venturing into some new area of taste, or do I stick with the familiar, with something that begins or ends in chocolate or peanut butter?

gelatoChoices like this, the trivial choices that fill our lives, are made according to taste or curiosity or whim, but even they can be directed by values.  For instance, risk aversion or taste for adventure (the fact that I ended up with a peanut butter flavor this weekend tells you something about me and how I reduce risk in my dessert choices).

To carry this example a bit further, I was at the gelato shop to extend an outing at the park with my 5-year-old daughter, Payton, who was enjoying a visit from a little friend who had moved recently to another part of the Chicago area. I was affirming friendship and the innocent enthusiasm of my child.

It also allowed me to keep a promise that we’d made to Payton to buy her ice when she reached a milestone on her “chore chart.”  I like to keep promises and affirm the industry of children doing chores.

To recap, with a simple visit to a gelato shop, I—knowingly or unknowingly—made value statements about risk taking, friendship, childhood joy, keeping promises, and childhood diligence. While we all can recognize that the overtly important choices of life are based on values, the everyday choices of life are also informed by our priorities and values. We know what we value because we spend our money, our energy, and our time on these things.

The same is true in business, including the sector that consumes a good deal of my attention:  nonprofit business.

Clarity about values provides the underlying foundation for action. In addition to mission and vision, a group must also determine how they will work together, how they will treat each other and what bonds them together.

Core Values

Core values are reflected in how we behave.  Successful companies adhere to a fundamental set of principles that guide their behaviors and decisions over time, preserving the essence of the organization. Values are critical because they define a company’s personality.  They provide employees with clarity about how to behave.  Clear values can also serve to attract and repel partners who want to support or work with an organization that reflects what they value.

Patrick Lencioni, in his amazing book The Advantage, writes that “an organization knows it has identified its core values correctly when it will allow itself to be punished for living those values.” He says: “Core values are not a matter of convenience.  They cannot be extracted from an organization any more than a human being’s conscience can be extracted from his or her person.”

Have you refused a donation or said goodbye to an otherwise valuable employee or partner because the transaction or continued association was a violation of a core value?

Although core values state the current personality of an organization, there are also characteristics that an organization wants to have and wishes it already had.  Leaders believe that these “aspirational” values are necessary for the organization to succeed and persevere.  Often this is a desire to understand both the timeless and changing values of our target audiences—our donors, volunteers, customers, and partners. We want to have our values evident in the way we do business and in the services we provide, and to actually reinforce the values of our constituents?

Our values here at The Valcort Group are as follows:

  • Integrity – We do what we say and want to be held accountable for our promise. We tell the truth at all times.
  • Imagination – Every problem is unique. Energized by limitations to find new ideas and opportunities, we create unique solutions.
  • Servant’s Heart – We exist to serve. Seeking the truth, we listen carefully, test our assumptions and respond with a desire to help others succeed. We pursue insight and understanding, and are thoughtful to make our solutions realistic and compelling
  • Results-oriented – We focus our energy, experience and talents on creating measurable results that help our clients achieve their mission and vision.

We’ve looked at the values statements of a number of nonprofit organizations (many of them call their values “principles.”  One thing we’ve found is that charities love words.  Most of the groups we’ve reviewed have very long values statements, with 5-7 values, each explained in long, often multiple paragraphs.  Some we looked at did not list values.

I’ve selected a key value from each of 13 organizations; a value that I find differentiating or interesting.  Click on the hyperlink for the full list.

World Vision

We Are Committed To the Poor

We are called to serve the neediest people of the earth, to relieve their suffering and to promote the transformation of their condition of life.

We stand in solidarity in a common search for justice. We seek to understand the situation of the poor and work alongside them towards fullness of life. We share our discovery of eternal hope in Jesus Christ.

We seek to facilitate an engagement between the poor and the affluent that opens both to transformation. We respect the poor as active participants, not passive recipients, in this relationship. They are people from whom others may learn and receive, as well as give. The need for transformation is common to all. Together we share a quest for justice, peace, reconciliation and healing in a broken world.

Wycliffe Bible Translators

The Word Translated

Our focus is founded on the promise in Scripture that God’s Word will accomplish what He wants it to accomplish. The Word of God transforms lives when it is translated into a language that speaks to peoples’ hearts.

Focus on the Family

The Value of Children

We believe that children are a heritage from God and a blessing from His hand. Parents are therefore accountable to Him for raising, shaping and preparing them for a life of service to His Kingdom and to humanity.

Compassion International


The ministry of Compassion belongs to the children, our Implementing Church Partners, our sponsors and donors, our Supporting Church Partners and ultimately to God. Therefore, we protect, develop and deploy all of our resources (people, time, money, knowledge, reputation and materials) with great care and wisdom.

American Red Cross


The Red Cross is independent. The national societies, while auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their governments and subject to the laws of their respective countries, must always maintain their autonomy so that they may be able at all times to act in accordance with Red Cross principles.

Direct Relief International

Be a Good Partner and Advocate.

Give credit where due, listen carefully, and respect those whom we serve and those contributing resources.

Save the Children


We are open to new ideas, embrace change and take disciplined risks to develop sustainable solutions for and with children.


In exposing threats to the environment and finding solutions we have no permanent allies or adversaries.

Amnesty International

Focus our energy for greater impact

Our passion for human rights is why we are here. If we combine our energy and use each others’ expertise to its best advantage we will achieve greatest impact.

  • We work together, uniting our energy
  • We act in solidarity with others to further the cause
  • We act in solidarity with peoples whose rights have been violated
  • We rightfully challenge what gets in the way
  • We are working towards the strategic priorities of AI

Feeding America


Feeding America staff and volunteers will treat all people: colleagues, stakeholders, the general public and the people we serve, with respect and dignity. Feeding America values its staff and volunteers and respects their diversity, education, training, professional experience and commitment to excellence. Feeding America is committed to the total inclusion and participation of all people in advancing our vision of creating a hunger-free America. Feeding America fosters cultural and ethnic diversity. Feeding America will apply confidentiality and anonymity in professional relationships with regard to privileged information.


Mayo Clinic

Primary value

The needs of the patient come first.


Franciscan Health System


Profound respect and awe for all creation, the foundation that shapes spirituality, our relationships with others and our journey to God.


And one organization that did manage brevity:

 The Salvation Army:

  • Passion
  • Compassion
  • Bravery
  • Uplifting Spirit
  • Trustworthiness


What are your organization’s core values? Do they state your very essence; what makes you different from others, that which you will not change regardless of responses and reactions. Would your employees, your donors, your partners and program recipients, agree that you demonstrate that which you espouse?

–Jim Jewell

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