In these days of stand-up desks and Google shuttles, it’s too easy to misconstrue perks solely as work culture, and it makes it hard for nonprofits to keep up. And while perks are certainly one piece of putting together a culture that works for your organization, there’s so much more that goes into crafting the perfect culture for your nonprofit organization.
It’s all about building a foundation before you start to add those things that your employees brag about. It’s about finding your true self as an organization, and deciding what you are and who you will become that will make you great.
Here’s how you can start building a foundation of great culture for your nonprofit:
Hold the Woe
Organizations too easily get stuck in the “woe is me – I’m just a nonprofit” mentality, and cower in the comparison to the for-profit sector. Well, it’s time to get over it. If you’re not treating your nonprofit like a business, you’re sadly way behind the times. Of course your mission and end goals are going to differ, but the way you structure and operate your nonprofit should be business-like, and it’s no different when it comes to nonprofit culture. You may just not be able to offer a free shuttle service.
Find Your Personality
Culture is what you want it to be, so you need to decide what that culture is. You could be in the midst of starting a nonprofit right now or you could even be going through a bit of an identity crisis as an organization. It doesn’t matter—it all requires the same steps. Is your organization more button-up or casual? Do you have a showy, playful personality or are you smart and reserved? These characteristics are all up for grabs, and nothing limits you and your team.
It’s important to know that having your organization’s personality set in place will then help you define your values. And your values help shape your mission and how you operate on a day-to-day basis.
Send Someone to Mars
Now you’re probably wondering where I’m going with this—it’s relatable, I swear. As a management team, you need to decide who on your staff (excluding you and management) best embodies your organization’s culture. Pick people who own and live the characteristics that you want your organization’s culture to be. Your “Mars” is any place that’s unfamiliar with your organization. It could be a conference, local luncheon or any sort of fundraising efforts for your nonprofit. Who would you pick to send to your “Mars” to best represent your culture?
Set this up as an exercise for your management team. It could depend on your organization’s size, but have each person write down three names on separate pieces of paper of people who embody your current or desired culture – and make sure to note what characteristics you like from each person. From there, tally names and have a discussion within your team. Before you know it, you’ll have a new culture team set as ambassadors for your nonprofit brand. These are the people who are shaping and living your organization’s values.
Now It’s Perk Time
Alright, so you’ve started to lay the foundation for your nonprofit culture. Now you can start putting thought into what everyone thinks culture is all about—the perks. You may be freaking out a bit because you’re a nonprofit, so you may not have the budget for catered lunches and unlimited paid time off. Don’t overthink it. While I’m guessing your staff isn’t working at a nonprofit for the perks, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer any. Just be smart about it, and have them play into your culture and brand.
Take the YMCA for example. Food days are popular in the workplace, but when an organization like the YMCA has one, do you think it’s all about brownies and other baked goods? More like fruits and veggies. While some organizations may have a beer fridge in the break room, that may not be a right fit for yours. Get your management team together along with those you’re sending to Mars, and start brainstorming what’s right for your staff. The more you can include low to no cost things, the better.
I’ve been building company culture for 20 years, but recently had to start over when we launched Nonprofit Hub a few years back. And it’s a different kind of culture. Now that we’ve opened a coworking space for nonprofits, we have a lot of different cultures coming into our culture. Every day I come into the office and get a sense for how amazing the energy is—and it’s because we helped build that foundation of culture. Find your energy and building the culture you desire will be easier than you think.