Purpose, Principles, and Values: Directional Elements for an Organization’s Sailboat


An organization without a purpose, principles, and values is like a sailboat without a set destination. It tosses and turns with the ocean waves, moves forward occasionally, and eventually washes up ashore somewhere. Every organization that sets out to make a difference must clearly define what kind of impact it would like to create with an understanding of why the world needs that particular kind of change. Defining the desired impact early provides a goal toward which inputs and activities can be geared – a very specific destination toward which the sail can be oriented. 

When inputs and activities are planned in light of specific, measurable targets, time and resources are more likely to be utilized in the most efficient and effective manner. Again, if we think of an organization as a sailboat, then the purpose or impact it seeks to create is the set destination. Once that is established, then there’s a need to put in place measures, checks, and balances to ensure that the required inputs and activities are executed in a way that maximizes the chances of achieving the goal. Just as a boat must have a protocol for frequent servicing, checks against leaks, and ensure that the right people with the right competencies are on board, every organization must establish values and principles that guide hiring, operations, and decision making. 

Thanks to my experience with nonprofit management, I know that numerous decisions have to be made everyday in order to meet project objectives and deadlines, solve organizational and beneficiary problems, keep donors satisfied, and sustain growth. I can’t make all these decisions alone so at Nested Savings, we have created a culture that allows people on different levels of the team to step up and solve problems related to their field of expertise. How can I, as head of the organization, trust that people will make the right decisions? By making sure each member of the team understands and embraces our set of principles and values. A decision is considered appropriate at Nested Savings if it promotes trust between the organization and its partners, preserves the individual and the organization’s integrity, demonstrates creativity, and moves us in the general direction of our long-term goals. 

Principled, values-based decisions and actions enable us to accomplish project objectives within set deadlines. Achieving project objectives means creating the desired impact in our target communities within the timeframe that both donors and beneficiaries expect. This is not only good for our reputation, but also for the wellbeing of the communities that we serve. 

I strongly believe that Nested Savings’ success with creating sustainable impact in the ten Ugandan communities that we serve is mainly due to the fact that we’ve clearly defined our purpose in terms of a mission and vision, carefully picked out values and principles that guide our daily actions, and ensured that every member of the organization clearly understands why we exist and how their respective roles propel us toward our organizational goals. 

Leaders around the world must take the time to figure out why their organizations exist and then clearly communicate the organization’s purpose to a team that is guided by well-defined values and principles. Doing this will increase the chances of achieving consistency in meeting short and long term goals.