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The Importance of Team Culture for Nonprofits

How would you describe your organization’s team culture?  

Your answer affects your organization’s efficiency and productivity, the happiness of you, your staff, board members, donors, and volunteers, as well as your financial bottom line.

Culture is a critical factor in determining how harmoniously and effectively any group will perform. For nonprofit organizations, developing a positive and supportive culture around the values that are important to you and the mission you are working towards is perhaps the most significant thing you can do to further your progress toward achieving that mission.

Building an effective team culture is intentional and involves deliberate action by all teammates.

In this article, we’ll discuss the “ideal” team culture and what that looks like, and we’ll go over some ways that you can start building that culture within your organization.

Different Kinds of Culture

The graphic below is borrowed from Jeff Janssen, an expert in sports leadership development. It depicts eight different kinds of cultures and their levels of success, each based on their level of focus on results and their level of focus on relationships within their team.

Nonprofits Team Culture

What this shows us is that a “championship culture” at the pinnacle of success has equally high levels of focus on results and on relationships.  This means that when your staff and supporters work toward a common mission as a cohesive unit and care about each other in the process, your fundraising will ultimately be more successful.

This stands in sharp contrasts to other cultures in which there is a high level of drive to achieve results, but a lesser emphasis on personal relationships (the drive to achieve results may even have a negative impact on relationships because of competition among staff or differences in organizational styles), or in which there is a high level of focus on relationships, but little to no work gets done.

In order for your organization to reach the goals you have set out to achieve, you need to get work done every day. However, it is just as important for each person who is a part of the organization to trust each other, and for everyone to buy into the same mission and goals. Without trust and support, clearly defined values, and a plan for how to get there, your organization will struggle when challenges arise.

Now that we’ve established why team culture is important and what it takes for a culture to be successful, how do you actually go about cultivating an effective culture within your own team?

Clearly Define Your Mission & Values

For success, you’ll want to not only be sure that your mission and values are clearly defined but that everyone in your organization is in agreement on what these should be.

If you have a clear statement about the purpose of your work, you will have something to refer back to in those moments when stress is high and motivation dips.

It’s a good idea to set aside time to discuss the expectations that you have for things like work-life balance, handling expenses, code of conduct and what standards of behavior are acceptable, and policies around stewardship and donor relationships.

It is always better to repeat something that may seem obvious rather than to assume everyone is on the same page. With these expectations clearly laid out, there will be far fewer conflicts around each others’ actions.

It’s important that you set aside a regular time to “check in” and assess whether the values you’ve previously defined are still relevant and where you are with upholding them.

Create an Action Plan Based Around Values

Once you know where you want to go, you need a plan for how to get there! To build and maintain a culture that is supportive and motivating, there are some questions each individual will need to answer.

What is my role in the mission we defined?

Every person involved with your organization should have an unambiguous and specific understanding of the part they play in propelling the team toward their goals.

What am I going to do every day to further the organization’s mission?

Getting even more specific, each person should lay out some concrete actions that they will perform each day that will further the organization’s mission.  These can vary from making sure emails are answered to visiting the site of a project to monitoring communications with donors, and beyond.

What can I do to ensure that my teammates feel comfortable and appreciated? What is our process for giving and receiving feedback?

Make sure that everyone is aware of and understands this process.

Is what I am doing (or about to do) in line with the standards we have established?

Periodically reflecting on the answers to these questions is key so that you can maintain the culture you have built around the values that were agreed upon, and make changes when needed.

Now you have everything you need to create a culture of success!