World Vision has a values problem.
Last week, it announced that it was reversing its decision to hire people who are in same-sex marriages. The original decision was widely welcomed; the organization is being condemned for its reversal.
World Vision is taking a battering in the press and in social media. This is the mess an organization can find itself in when it doesn’t know its values.
World Vision’s original decision to allow people in same-sex unions to work at the hunger-fighting organization was undoubtedly a product of the momentum toward equality. The change is real, and it has been swift
. Last year, The Supreme Court struck down
the Defense of Marriage Act, which had been used to discriminate against same-sex couples. World Vision’s first step, however small, was another sign of that progress.
World Vision doesn’t know its values
Perhaps the reversal shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. World Vision USA is a conservative organization that insists its employees refrain from any sexual activity outside of marriage. It has wealthy donors who often seek to exact significant influence in the organizations they give to. World Vision is no different. But its reversal is a clear contradiction of its stated values
We act in ways that respect the dignity, uniqueness, and intrinsic worth of every person—the poor, the donors, our staff and their families, boards, and volunteers. We celebrate the richness of diversity in human personality, culture, and contribution.
When an organization does not establish clear values that its people believe in and live every day, problems arise. Values help an organization understand its purpose, make crucial decisions, and communicate with coherence and clarity.
When those values are not deeply embedded in the organization, contradictory messages are put forth, only to crumble under the slightest pressure. This is what happened to World Vision. It was completely unprepared for the backlash. Twice.
Meaningless values hinder communication
The press release announcing the reversal stated, “We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends…” This type of tone-deaf communication suggests World Vision’s priorities lie with its large, influential donors and not toward “tackling the causes of poverty and injustice” that it claims to do. It has inflicted yet another injustice, not tackled one.
World Vision had two options when its major donors started calling. The first was to speak to a values base and explain its decision, perhaps losing a few donors in the process. It chose the other option.
Some have suggested that World Vision would have been better not to have done anything and avoid this mess. That may have been a wise PR move, but it is delaying the inevitable. Organizations that ignore—and indeed hinder—the march toward equality and justice will become irrelevant. At some point World Vision must relax its dogmatic stance. It should have been this week. It was; then it wasn’t.
World Vision needs to take a long look at its values. If it truly believes in justice, dignity, and uniqueness, then it must recognize it, celebrate it, and own it. Otherwise those stated values are just words.
The lesson: Know your values and live them
It may seem to be a bump in the road toward justice and equality, but the reaction against World Vision is surely a sign of the progress that’s been made. Smaller-scale donors—who are larger in number—are reconsidering their support of World Vision. It now faces months or even years of repairing its tarnished public image.
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The lesson for organizations and brands is this: Know your values, live your values, communicate your values. Sometimes that means standing up to big donors.
Jeremy Porter is a freelance communications strategist and writer. He blogs regularly and can be found on Twitter.