Diary of a Nonprofit | Knowing Your Value(s)

A few weekends ago on a Saturday morning, our small but mighty CrowdED Learning Board of Directors held its first in-person meeting since our formation as an organization in May 2017. Both friends and respected standouts in their respective fields, Cris and Jen have allowed me the space for what I will refer to as a two-year "period of discovery" to determine where CrowdED Learning fits in the world of adult education. 

The goal of our gathering was very much a braindump to reflect upon what's been discovered from conversations, presentations, surveys, and just throwing stuff out into the world and seeing how people react. And, with this in mind, to begin charting a course for where we should be focusing our energy and resources for the road ahead.
"Guiding Light" CC-BY Christopher Michel
Accessed via Wikimedia Commons

Quite honestly, planning this meeting was really stressful for me. As an organization, I'm proud of how far we've come. We've forged a little name for ourselves within the field of adult education and gotten some humbling recognition from incredibly respected people and organizations. And we've eagerly put out a bunch of resources that are greatly needed and have been well responded to by instructors and learners. 

Yet, as a total newbie to the nonprofit world, I constantly find myself thinking: "Are we moving fast enough? Smart enough? Is there value in what we are doing?" 

Value. When you are trying to build something from the ground up and are starting from nothing, helping people see value—particularly donors and funders—becomes really important. We are an organization that is ready to launch. We know people see incredible value in what we are working to provide. But, in order to scale our impact, we need funding.  

So....how do we get there? 

With this question in mind, a major priority for this meeting was to talk about funding and ways to achieve it quickly. However, before diving into that, I decided to dedicate the first portion of the meeting to reviewing our mission statement, as well as a set of core values that had been drafted to describe how we want CrowdED Learning to operate within the world. 

I really wasn't sure how this exercise would go over. With so many decisions to make and so many questions to peel through in a rare three hours together in the same room, would this exercise be considered worthwhile or just a botched attempt of trying to lead a productive meeting? 

When you start a nonprofit organization, you must have a mission statement. Here is ours: 

CrowdED Learning provides freely accessible learning tools that reduce barriers for adult learners’ education and employment while promoting persistence and lifelong learning in the digital age.

We reviewed this and a "core values" document, which was something new that came out of work I did with a consultant we hired to craft a fund development plan for the organization. Although we've identified areas where we can raise revenue to support our mission, she stressed it was critical to have in place a set of core values to ensure that for every decision we make we have something to reference that serves as a constant reminder of our true north. 

What started as something I intended to last a few minutes took significantly longer. First silence and careful reading, notetaking, crossing out, adding. Then the conversation. 

"Do people truly know what crowdsource means?" 

"What if we use collaborate instead of collective?" 

"Is this open enough?" 

"How are we inspiring participation? Is that clear?" 

It was thoughtful, thorough, and took nearly an hour to complete. Here are the overarching bullet points of where we landed. (You can click here to read the full document.) 

Why do I share this? Well, as an organization, we still are relatively new. We continue to hone our purpose and figure out where we fit in, and you still are getting to know us. We are pretty unconventional in our approach. We poke, we prod, and we puzzle and experiment out loud to figure out what works and what doesn't. 

That being said, I share our core values because I feel it's important for you to understand why we do some of the things we do, such as:

Why we release things piece by piece, sometimes even half-baked things. 

Why there is no secret sauce...we clearly state out loud for everyone to hear what we aim to achieve and how we plan to achieve it...and then ask you to poke holes in it. 

Why you always will have a front row seat to what we are doing, how we are doing it, why we are doing it....and you will be invited and encouraged to be part of the process. 

Why you will never ever ever hear us use words like "first" or "only" or "best" in reference to anything we do because, quite simply, our values are steeped in the idea that what we do has absolutely nothing to do with us....and everything to do with serving adult learners and instructors in whatever way we can.

I left the meeting both exhausted and incredibly heartened. As an organization, we still need to figure out how the heck we build out pragmatically and get to a place where we can sustain what we offer. And while we could have jumped right into the dollars and cents stuff, I'm grateful that we took the time to hammer out and tweak our core values statement. You can only have value to others unless you have clarity in the values by which you operate...and I'm beyond proud of CrowdED Learning's values and what we aspire to be as an organization.

It also means you are going to hear a LOT more from us in the coming weeks, inviting you to become part of the process as we build out SkillBlox and explore other ideas. 😉

Thank you, Cris + Jen, for being trusted advisers and believers in the world we as an organization are trying to create. Thank you for your knowledge, your guidance, and...most admirably....your trust in the process we are taking. I am humbled on a daily basis as we watch this all morph into something meaningful, and am so very thankful to be afforded the opportunity to do this work. 

Yours, in learning,


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