To me, an organization’s guiding principles are about its DNA. Not about what it does, but about what guides what it does, and how it goes about doing it.

And I can think of no better way to go about this than to ‘humanize’ your organization. To create a character description of the person (organization) – head, heart, body, movement, presence, values, etc.

  • What would it think, feel and do if it were a person?
  • How would it behave in community?
  • How would it see and hear all that it needs to?
  • What would it value? How would it be rooted in the work it does?

I’ve used the fun image1 below to help facilitate the process – to actively and collaboratively work with groups within the organization to move towards guiding principles, and from that, create mission and vision statements when needed. It may seem counter-intuitive to approach the process in this order, but the work of ‘humanizing’ the organization leads to clarity around concrete guiding principles and then development of actual mission and vision statements is simpler.

Answering these questions is the foundation of the work:

  1. Head/Thinking – How do you reason, decide? What is your ideology – culture, creed, philosophy?
  2. Eyes/Seeing – How do you see the world? How do you see your place in the world, how do you see contributing in relation to what you’re seeing? What/Who do you see around you? What is your vision for the future?
  3. Ears/Hearing – How are you relating to feedback? Do you gather feedback and if so how?
  4. Throat/Voice – What’s important that you need to share and how do you share? What message do you need to convey?
  5. Heart/Values – What do you feel about your organization or want people to feel about it? It’s soul, essence, driving feelings?
  6. Hands/Creation – How do you create things? i.e. Environmentally driven? Community driven? Needs driven?
  7. Movement – How do you move in and through the world? i.e. Expertise? Educator? Leader?
  8. Feet/Foundation -What are you standing on? What are your strengths – the foundation of who you are? i.e. Financially sustainable organization? The land that you are on? Your roots?

From the answers to these questions powerful words emerge that begin to shape the guiding principles that are at the heart or the DNA of your organization. These individual words come together to form phrases that grow into organizational identity encompassing the guiding principles, vision and mission that you wish to live by.

Alongside strategic planning, creating guiding principles, mission and vision statements is foundational to charting a course for success and building a sustainable mission-driven nonprofit that creates a better future for your community.


1 Originally created by Yvette Hawkes

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