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Terri Harel
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How Possible Does Organizational Culture

Every organization can and should create a valuable culture. Culture affects retention, motivation, effectiveness, and creativity. Possible, a nonprofit that delivers high-quality health care to underserved and impoverished communities, is a self-defined “for-impact” organization and they recently published this awesome Slideshare about their For-Impact Culture Code. Browse it all the way through for an inspiring example of how one organization invested in a culture to generate better, more remarkable results in the field.


We’ve previously talked about nonprofit culture, and we stressed that defining culture might be one of the most important things an organization does. An organizational culture establishes what you stand for – what every action your organization does and should work towards – and the core values that drive and motivate these actions.

What Organizational Culture Actually Means

One mantra championed by Brad Feld, co-founder of a venture capital firm called the Foundry Group, jumps out at me about culture:

And context means a lot more than free lunches and lounge chairs. Context is culture’s enabler and includes:

  • Celebrating even the smallest wins for your cause
  • Being inclusive and team-oriented
  • Collaborating to create value for constituents and donors
  • Leading by example
  • Removing barriers to implementing new ideas
  • Motivation is an innate reason for pursuing something. Establish the context in which you and your staff are motivated. The environment you create and the people you decide to work with ultimately affect what your organization is capable of.

    The ROI of a Great Organizational Culture

    A culture that’s a good fit and a pleasure to participate in generates remarkable results and, importantly, creates an organization people can trust, believe and invest in.

    Think of how you establish trust with a new friend. To become really good friends, you’ll probably want to know your values and lifestyles align. The same goes for the donor-organization relationship. To modify an awesome product development quote: “People don’t give to organizations, they give to better versions of themselves.” We donate because we believe in a cause that seems to be an inherent part of our core values.

    From a fundraising perspective, a well-defined culture makes an organization’s core values more discoverable and is an opportunity to establish a deep and meaningful connection with a potential supporter. Be transparent about your culture, why you do what you do and how you do it, and you’ll establish a better rapport with supporters from the get-go.

    … Wait, There’s More ROI

    Your organization’s culture isn’t an arbitrary or generalized set of values for staff to uphold. The powerful Jim Collin’s quote in Possible’s Slideshare speaks to this: “Culture IS strategy.”

    Culture enables an organization to achieve their mission head-on with more efficiency and efficacy. It creates the stepping-stones you’ll need to make your organization’s aspiration a reality, which can often feel light years away. You might not realize it in the short-term, but culture is a business model. Strong cultures – at organizations with thoughtful contexts – enable the learning, growth, bootstrap-saavy and problem solving a nonprofit needs to be successful.

    How to Build Your Organizational Culture

    A great place to start in establishing an organizational culture that works for your cause is determining the ideal return you’ll receive from staff – what do you expect them to contribute to the organization? Then establish values you seek in fellow team members and don’t be afraid to be stringent about those values.

    Certain aspects of culture, such as hiring the right talent and letting the wrong talent go, will shed time- and resource-consuming tasks like superfluous meetings and overbearing management. When a deep sense of trust can be established between team members where values are unwaveringly aligned, barriers and waste fall to the way-side.

    Possible puts significant value on time and high-quality impact. This means they apply smart hiring, productivity tools like Asana, and seek simplicity over complexity to get stuff done in the most efficient and impactful way.

    Try assessing what “work about work” tasks are not making inroads to your mission and are taking up your time. Find out if these can be eliminated or simplified somehow. There are tons of automation tools, like Hootsuite, IFTTT and Zapier that can help relieve some of your social media duties (just as one example of the many things these apps can automate). Or, tools like Asana and Slack that streamline productivity.

    These practices create cohesion across staff to get more done, more effectively.

    And don’t worry, a great culture doesn’t have to be expensive. Culture isn’t the ultra-hip perks and top-tier salaries we might imagine. Remember the quote about creating context that motivates. Staff that feels ownership over their role, is motivated, valued, fairly compensated and whose passion for your cause is nurtured, will be driven to achieve the best possible results for your organization. Creating a valuable culture doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to be smart.



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