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Human Resources Guide for Small Nonprofits:
What's Your Philosophy?

To compensate for your lack of financial resources, you must make sure that you have carefully developed the vision, mission, and core values of your organization. Congruence between these three areas is critical in helping your staff to maintain a strong sense of the philosophy driving your work. These are what you come back to when you need to remind yourself why you're working under such conditions. These are what you will use to attract people to work for you.


Vision is what causes your organization to rush to complete its mission. On an individual level, it is what causes a person to jump out of bed in the morning and rush to work. The vision is your dream, your ideal picture of what the world should look like in your particular field. It needs to be clear, it must be omnipresent, and it must be kept alive in your workplace to keep that fire burning under the feet and in the hearts of your staff.


Your mission is what you do once you've rushed to work. It answers three simple questions:

  • What is it that we do?
  • Who do we do it for?
  • Why do we do it?

A good mission is clear and understandable. It captures your vision and puts it into action. Your mission should be understood on both the organizational and individual level. Not only should your organization be able to present its purpose and rationale, but each employee should understand his or her unique role and why it is important. This all gets back to that frequently-asked question, "Why am I here?"

Taking the time to review these questions for your organization is critical. But also take the time to ask staff members about their personal life missions. For however much time they have left to live, what is it they want to do, for whom, and why? Knowing and caring about the answers to these questions will strengthen your staff's ability to operate as a team and shout your mission from the rooftops even when the houses are crumbling underneath their feet.

Core Values

Core values refer to those most basic beliefs concerning what is moral, right, and just. They form the guidelines for acceptable behavior. While not always "black and white," core values cause individuals to be shocked when they are violated. They are the "straight stick" in an organization against which other sticks are measured. They inform the choices you make and the directions in which you travel.

It is important for your staff to be able to identify the core values of your organization and use them to guide their individual paths as professionals in your office and in the field. When it's crunch time and everyone is trying to meet deadlines or resolve a crisis, decisions must be made quickly and can't always wait for group consensus. Clear core values that are well-known and understood among staff make it easier for employees to work in a timely fashion and make decisions that reflect the philosophy of the organization.

It goes without saying that the vision, mission, and core values of your organization should be congruent and not present any contradictions. Any small contradiction is an open door for interpersonal conflict, and could jeopardize your success in managing human resources.

Annotated Bibliography: Human Resources


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