Creating the Right Culture at your Nonprofit | npENGAGE

Creating the Right Culture at your Nonprofit

By on May 13, 2014


Culture is mission.  Culture is process.  Culture is everything.

I really do believe this.

When I was a kid, culture had a very different meaning.  It’s possible that I just didn’t get what it was all about.  To me, culture was about “being cultured.”  It was about art, and class and learning things that tended to be highbrow.

But today, culture is something much more mainstream.  And because it’s this way (or at least to me), it’s much more central.  It’s literally about everyone and for everyone.  And that’s a good thing.

At your nonprofit, culture is at the heart of who you are.  It’s the way “you” as an organization and “you” as employees behave.  It has the mission of the organization at its core and, through processes, embodies the way you do things…because that’s “who you are.”

If you’re thinking about culture (and you should be) at your nonprofit, think about the following areas as ways to ensure you are being true to the brand, to the mission, to the reason why your organization exists.

1) Begin with the Mission

Although you should know it by heart, take a look at your mission as a central, coordinating message.  Think about what it means, what it feels like, what it promises to the world.

2) Turn Next to your People

Culture is all about behavior, and it’s people who take the steps that reflect on your organization.  So look at your people.  Think about what they stand for and how they embody your mission.  Are you equipping them to do the best they can for the organization?  And when hiring, make sure you are taking into account all the soft skills and nuances that your successful staff bring to the table.

3) Evaluate your Policies

Nonprofits rely on people to deliver on their missions, so people need to be happy and productive.  That means having good, logical, effective policies both around things like benefits and worklife AND about the way work gets done.  If you get everything else right but have difficult processes that create a lot of red tape, guess what happens to employee satisfaction?  It take a hit.  Your culture becomes something less than it could be.

4) Check out your Workspace

Where people work, where they sit or stand or move around to do their jobs, matters.  Your physical environment IS also about your culture.  The space you provide to people can say a lot about the way the organization values them.  This doesn’t mean you have to work in a really big place.  If you’re cramped for space but can cheer things up with new paint, small investments in supplies that help keep you organized, and other touches that mean something to your people, then do it.

5) Always Remember your Customers

Every organization has customers, and good ones put customers at the center.  Always remember who you serve and why you serve them.  Make the time to share their stories with everyone in your organization.  Make customers a part of your culture even if those customers don’t walk through the door every day.

These are but five areas to think about when thinking culture.  There are so many more.  In the end, simply remember your brand, your mission.  Make decisions that align with what your organization is all about.  Be true to the mission.  Be true to the people, and a good culture will result.



Rachel Hutchisson is the vice president of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Blackbaud, headquartered in Charleston, SC.  She is responsible for the company’s global corporate citizenship efforts, a role that allows her to leverage her 20+ years of experience of working with nonprofit partners.  She is a member of the board of directors for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International, the Giving Institute (producers of Giving USA), and the Coastal Community Foundation.  She is also a Past President of the AFP SC Lowcountry chapter. Rachel is a graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, and received a master’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.  A member of Phi Beta Kappa, she is a Renaissance Weekend participant and was the recipient of the Charleston Regional Business Journal’s Influential Women in Business Rising Star Award.  Rachel is an avid soccer fan and spends far too much time driving to remote parts of the state to watch her children play.  Connect with Rachel on Twitter at @RachelHutchssn or on LinkedIn.

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