Operations

Organizational Culture: A Nonprofit's Get-Started Guide

Updated September 16, 2018

Be proactive in building your organization's culture

In today's society, image is everything. In our social media-addicted society, image can be carefully curated, edited and even reinvented to serve one’s best interests. And as those interests change, so can one’s image, with the click of a mouse or swipe of a finger. Your personal brand has never been more important because your online footprint shapes your perceived self. And we all know that perception is reality.

Similarly, organizational image affects perceived value. Brand identity is a key factor in employee engagement, customer attraction and retention and stakeholder loyalty. If your agency gets its image factor right, you’ve earned a unique competitive edge.

So how do you ensure your nonprofit brand is differentiated, attractive, and reflective of your core values? Culture.

Defining culture

The culture concept has been around for decades, popularized by American management professor Edgar Schein in 1980. But just recently, culture has grown from buzzword status to near obsession as leaders across sectors and industries attempt to crack the code on culture creation and transformation.

Brighter Strategies This article is sponsored by Brighter Strategies

Entrepreneur defines culture as “a blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths all companies develop over time.” This quirky Infographic illustrates the meaning of culture and its link to employee engagement, productivity, and organizational effectiveness.

Creating culture

Developing your nonprofit culture is not as simple as creating a new social media profile. However, if you choose to do nothing, your organizational culture will create itself. And take it from us: It’s easier in the long run to build a healthy, vibrant culture than to transform a toxic one. In other words, an upfront investment in culture creation will reap enormous benefits. Below are some tips for how to get started.

  • Identify your desired culture. Do your organization’s mission and vision accurately reflect the culture you are creating? If not, it’s time for a change. Your core values are the starting point for the brand you intend to project.
  • Model culture norms. As a leader of culture creation in your organization, you must be an example of what you hope your employees will achieve. Perfection is not the goal; rather, authenticity and transparency are key.
  • Communicate culture expectations. Explain to stakeholders what you expect from them as co-creators of your culture. Make clear the training opportunities and development pathways that will help get them there.

After you’ve established your intended culture, it’s important that you have a means to measure it tangibly within your organization. Celebrate achievements by rewarding folks who exemplify these norms. And empower employees, at all levels, to recognize each other as culture champions.

Auditing culture

A more recent trend in the culture conversation is the ongoing review of your existing (or recently created) organizational culture. Forbes touches on this concept in its article, “Why Corporate Culture is Becoming Even More Important.”

Like any operational audit, a culture audit should involve all relevant organizational stakeholders, such as individuals served, employees, funders, board members and community representatives. These people can help you determine if your agency’s norms, philosophy and values hinder or support its intended impact.

Here are some sample questions to pose to stakeholders during a culture audit:

  • What is the company’s mission, vision, and values? Does the organization’s culture reflect these statements?
  • In what programs, products, and services does the organization invest its resources?
  • How are decisions made and operations delegated?
  • Are stakeholders recognized for exemplifying the culture? If so, how?
  • What is the organization’s external reputation?
  • How do internal stakeholders talk about the agency?
  • What is the organization’s strategy for the future? Does its culture support this outlook?

The audit is part of your commitment to continuous improvement and serves as a “culture check-in.” Don’t get lost in the details of each response. After surveying stakeholders and collecting responses, summarize emerging themes and outline a simple action plan to give your culture a facelift, if needed. Like posting updated photos on Instagram, tweaking your culture after an audit is necessary for image upkeep.

Take some time to assess your organization’s culturral health. Are you due for a culture audit? Or are you waiting to take the first step toward culture creation? Brighter Strategies is passionate about culture transformation. Contact us today to learn more about our resources and services.

MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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