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The Importance of Culture for a Nonprofit

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“If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”The Importance of Culture for Nonprofits

In a 1981 interview, Barbara Walters presented Katharine Hepburn with this probing, and now famed, question.

And while it may seem trivial, it does make you think…If your nonprofit organization was a tree, what kind of tree would it be?

If it’s been awhile since you considered your organization’s culture, it’s best to take note.

Strong culture is essential to the success of every business. It’s particularly important to nonprofits. It can help with many of the unique challenges that nonprofits face. A nonprofit with a favorable, well-defined, and well-communicated culture has a clear advantage.

Culture can easily be defined as an organization’s personality. It encompasses the attitudes, values, ethics, and beliefs that are shared by those who work there. It is partly predetermined and dictated by management, and partly something that evolves naturally over time.

Defining Your Organization’s Culture

Hopefully your response to the tree question is something along the lines of “fruitful with strong roots.” However, if this question stumped you (pun intended), take a step back to assess your organization’s culture. This can be accomplished by surveying your employees.

Questions should be designed to gauge employees’ level of satisfaction, dedication to the organization, and perceived culture, such as:

  • What key values help our organization thrive and should never change?
  • What makes you most proud of our organization?
  • Would you recommend a friend to work here?
  • If presented with another job opportunity, what reasons would you give for wanting to stay here?
  • What three words would you use to describe our culture?
  • What three words would you use to describe someone who works here?

The responses will help you gain insight into what is working and what areas need attention. Your goal should be to cultivate a culture that is desirable to both current and prospective employees.

Communicating Your Culture Can Benefit Your Nonprofit

You’ve assessed and defined your culture, now what? Communicate it! Doing so can help with the following efforts:

Recruiting. Incorporating your culture in job postings and including on your website can help attract candidates to your organization. Thanks to employee advocacy, the promotion of an organization by its staff members, spreading the news of your culture will also happen organically. When employees love their job and where they work, word gets around.

Hiring the right people.  If your culture is properly defined and communicated, it will draw the right talent to your organization who are aligned with your core values. When interviewing, be sure to clearly express your culture to candidates and ask questions to determine if there is a match. This practice is commonly referred to as “hiring for cultural fit.”

Retention and engagement. Weaving your culture throughout internal communications, including your employee handbook, helps strengthen your team’s sense of purpose and helps move it forward in a unified direction.

In conclusion…

A clearly defined culture should be rooted in your organization so it can grow stronger and more productive.

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