By Janis Reischmann, Hau`oli Mau Loa Foundation
We all know the important role the board plays in hiring and reviewing the chief staff person in a nonprofit organization, but I’ve been thinking recently about a second important role our board is playing that is critical to our evolution as a foundation. That role is defining, articulating, and transmitting the values of the foundation as well as helping us determine how those values are practiced across the organization. How did our board do this, and why has it been so important?
When I joined Hau`oli Mau Loa Foundation as the first staff person in 2008, the two founding board members who hired me were the only people affiliated with the foundation who had known its benefactor. When hiring me, they realized that they wanted to translate their knowledge of the benefactor’s values and her aspirations for the foundation, which had not been well-documented, to those who would be working at the foundation and responsible for carrying out its mission. They also had a sense of wanting to ensure, as the board grew and as they would eventually transition off the board, that the next generation of board members were firmly grounded in what our foundation’s benefactor valued and how she expressed those values.
As a result, the board, together with staff, developed a set of organizational values. Those values served us well for the first several years, and the communication of those values to staff were often accompanied by stories of the benefactor and how she practiced one value or another.
When we got ready to add a new board member, someone who would be joining the board with no knowledge of our benefactor, the founding board members decided we needed to develop a short document that could be given to new board members as well as new staff that summarized our benefactor’s values and how the expression of those values have helped to formulate how we behave. We now think of what’s in that document as “our DNA.”