Posted by Jay Wilkinson

Unless you just opened your doors yesterday, your nonprofit has a culture. The question is, did you create it intentionally or did it happen by default?

First, let’s define what “culture” is. Simply put, it refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how an organization’s employees and management interact both with each other and the outside world.

Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time. It goes way beyond perks like free pizza on Fridays or unlimited vacation days. It reflects the organization’s values, priorities and is largely shaped by the leaders who run it.

Each organization has its own unique culture, but if you don’t take intentional steps to create the culture you want, you may end up with one you don’t want causing attrition. Purposefully create the right culture for your organization with these eight steps.

  1. Ask someone to own it. Is there someone on your staff who is passionate about your organization and displays natural leadership skills? That’s the kind of person you want to own your culture. That doesn’t mean they have to do all the work to create your culture; it simply means they take a leadership role in its development. You could form a committee to oversee culture-related issues, like workplace perks, educational opportunities or employee morale issues. But that committee will function best with a point person who’s passionate about cultural development.
  2. Listen to your employees and/or volunteers. Ask them often how their job is going or if they have any suggestions for improvements in the workplace. Understanding what makes your employees happy begins with getting to know them (and what motivates them) better.
  3. Invest in people. Your employees and volunteers are your most valuable resource. Give them opportunities to grow, whether that includes classes, conferences, webinars, seminars—anything that allows them to develop both professionally and personally.
  4. Be available. Don’t isolate yourself from your employees; take time to interact with them on a regular basis. An open-door policy will make everyone feel like they have a place to go when they have suggestions or ideas for improvement or innovation.
  5. Recognize people who do good things. Everyone needs to feel valued and rewarded for their efforts. This creates an all-around positive environment and encourages loyalty.
  6. Allow people to make mistakes. When a mistake is dealt with harshly, it dampens people’s excitement for what they do and makes them fearful to try new things. Most innovative ideas originate in a culture that promotes taking risks and encourages people to try, try again.
  7. Show employees how their job affects the financial bottom line. When people understand how valuable their jobs are to the overall success of the organization, they will naturally become more dedicated. 
  8. Cultivate creativity. When employees find a better way to do something, reward them. If they come up with a brilliant idea, call them out. Positive reinforcement will breed more creativity and innovation.

Studies show that the more satisfied an employee is, the better a team player she becomes. She’ll be more punctual, more productive and higher performing. Employees like these are loyal to you and your organization, and ultimately their loyalty will help create donor loyalty as well.

Another important part of developing the culture you want is creating a website that reflects the values, beliefs and priorities of your organization. We’ve been helping nonprofits build the perfect website for their organization for a decade—let us help yours. Request a free trial at or by calling 877.447.8941.