Many associations identify and adopt guiding principles or values. They serve as a decision-making framework for board and staff. Do not confuse organizational values with a code of conduct for members.

Values reflect the organization’s culture, dating back to its founders. (Sometimes founders are reluctant to transition for fear their values will be lost.) As volunteers transition annually, the values help new leaders make decisions.

For instance, if transparency is a value, it would be expected that most work is done candidly. There will be openness and clarity in governance and committee processes.

Brand Platform

The combination of values becomes the “values statement.” With the mission statement, it helps define the organization.

As members, prospects and stakeholders read the mission and values, it allows them to determine if the organization is of interest or a good fit. For example, will they feel included and be heard?


Listening to a board for a few minutes, the values become apparent. Statements such as, “we need to embrace diversity,” and “members expect us to act with integrity,” will help identify the values.

Limit the list of guiding principles to three to five. Brevity encourages directors to remember and apply the principles in board and committee deliberations.

Traveling the globe working with associations, chambers and NGOs, the most frequent values include:

  • Transparency
  • Accountability
  • Respect
  • Diversity
  • Integrity
  • Professionalism
  • Innovative
  • Member Driven
  • Sustainability
  • Growth

Boardroom at the Heartland REALTORS® Organization in Illinois.


To guide the board, it may be best to use the single words. Then add a description that should be integrated into the organization’s policy manual, brand platform or strategic plan.

Transparency: Transparency is the most common value around the world. It is key to fighting corruption. Members do not want to perceive their organization is secretive. Transparency starts with public records and open channels of communication.

Accountability: The organization, volunteers and staff make commitments. Stakeholders are disappointed by false promises and failures.

Diversity: Diversity has many meanings. It has no meaning if it is not backed by inclusion. An organization is stronger when it embraces diverse ideas and people.

Respect: The quickest way to lose momentum is to let distrust enter the organization. Expressing respect for all people in the organization maintains trust and comradery.

Integrity: Compliance with all laws, governing documents and the organizational values. Continuous focus on doing the right thing.


A list of values is meaningless unless they are applied. The leadership and staff should be aware of the guiding principles.

Jim Haisler, RCE, MRE, CIPS, the executive director at the Heartland REALTORS® Organization said, “We have found that having these words ‘in your face’ during a meeting is a reminder that we are all working toward the common good of the membership. Values counsel directors they are in leadership roles not for themselves but for the benefit of the industry.”

There are ways to implement each value. For instance, adopting a value of diversity might be reflected in diversity of programs, staffing, board composition and targeted outreach. Diversity is meaningless without purposeful inclusion.

A value of respect will be obvious at the board table. Insensitive comments are inappropriate. Make time to celebrate the achievements of leaders, committees and staff.

Keep the values in front of the board by displaying them on the conference room wall, a pop-up banner or in the strategic plan. Promote awareness through orientation.