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Leadership Training Series (video): Episode 12 of 21 - Building a Unifying Culture (part 1 of 10)

In This Video:

Today, I’m kicking off a new series on how to create a “Get it Done!” culture. That’s right, culture. See, if you bring a set of high quality people who care only about their OWN passions . . . and there is no overall, COLLECTIVE passion for your nonprofit, you’ll end up with a lot of great people working in silos with no UNIFIED effort to fulfill the mission.

Therefore, if you want to effectively fulfill your mission, you need to create a culture that unifies everyone. This video is the overview of the ten part series that will help understand what culture is and how to build a better one. Read on, or watch the video.

Intended Audience:

Executives, Board Members, Staff.

About the Series:

Welcome to my Nonprofit Leadership series "How to Build a Gold Standard Nonprofit."

Whether you're a seasoned executive director, or new to the nonprofit world, this video series of 21 videos will give you a set of tools and principles (and good reminders) that will help take your staff, board, organization, to the next level of performance and impact.

The videos are short. There is no mumbo-jumbo theory, just wise advice and practical tactics you can use and apply immediately. It all comes from though lessons I've learned while building eight nonprofits over the last 20 years.

I'll be sending out one video a week. For those who want to binge on the series, or if you missed an episode, you can find them all (and more) on my YouTube Channel -- The Nonprofit Mentor.

Save These Videos

Save these emails in a folder and send them to staff once a week. Or, show one or a two at every board meeting. You can even use them when on-boarding staff, board members, or volunteers. Enjoy and Learn!


PS: You can read more high-quality leadership content in the bestselling books below. (50% off)

by Tom Iselin

“America’s Best Board Retreat Facilitator”

Transcript of Video

Hi, Tom Iselin, here . . . and welcome to First Things First! This is Day 12 of Boot Camp—A Leadership Guide to Building a Gold Standard Nonprofit.

As you recall, I started off Boot Camp with a series on how to BRING ON and RETAIN High Quality people to build a high-performance nonprofit. Then I launched a series on Authentic Passion. During those episodes, I explained the process of transforming an environment of LIP SERVICE PASSION into one of AUTHENTIC PASSION, and why this process is imperative if a nonprofit wants to effectively fulfill its mission.

Today, I’m kicking off a new series on how to create a “Get it Done!” CULTURE. That’s right, CULTURE. See, if you bring a set of high quality people who care only about their OWN passions . . . and there is no overall, COLLECTIVE passion for your nonprofit, you’ll end up with a lot of great people working in silos with no UNIFIED effort to fulfill the mission. Therefore, if you want to EFFECTIVELY fulfill your mission, you need to create a culture that UNIFIES everyone.

Ok, let’s get started! Did you ever play on a sports team that won a championship? Perhaps you played on a winning soccer, tennis, or gymnastics team. If you weren’t a jock, maybe you played on a winning club team such as chess, debate, or band. Or, maybe you participated in a dance company or theater group.

Whatever the activity, if you played on a winning team, you know the importance of team spirit and hard wor Everyone has a role, every role is important, and everyone trains hard—individually and COLLETIVELY—to achieve common goals.

If you reflect on those glory days, you’ll probably discover you were part of a team driven by authentic passion and inspired by a demanding but compassionate coach who provided valuable guidance, praise, and accountability.

Playing on a championship team is a once in a lifetime experience. You make friends, have fun, and the more you win, the more inspired you become to work harder to win more. Winning makes you feel invincible—your soul bubbles with joy, and the memories last a lifetime.

Well, working for a nonprofit is similar to playing on a sports team. Each nonprofit sector is like a sports league. It has its own language, rules, and regulations. It also has its own geographic regions: local, county, state, national, and global. Whatever “league” your nonprofit plays in, each nonprofit in your league is made up of people who believe their good work—their participation—will make a difference.

Some sports teams win championships because they have a star player. Others win because they have a great coach. Many have a star player and a great coach and still can’t win a championship. Consistent winning requires more than star players and great coaches; it requires teams to create and nurture a culture that inspires and enables winning A little luck helps too.

The same is true in the nonprofit world. Some nonprofits have a char­ismatic founder, an influential board chair, an experienced program di­rector, or someone with an uncanny ability to raise money.

It’s a blessing if you have a star player or two on your nonprofit team, and the more stars you have on your team the better. But unless there is a strong team CULTURE unifying the players and coaches, it’s doubtful your non­profit will ever win a major championship.

Let me put this way . . . Your mission tells people what you do. Your vision tells people where you’re going. But your culture tells people who you ARE! It tells people what you stand for! It SHOWS people what you BELIEVE!

A strong, well-defined culture is the bedrock of a winning nonprofit. It is the ETHOS that yokes the hearts and minds and actions of everyone connected to your nonprofit to fulfill your mission.

Funny thing is, very few nonprofits have a defined culture . . .which is why, so many nonprofits stumble and stall as they grow and age—and never make it to the championship round.

Well, that enough for today. Tune in next week, when I’ll talk more about how you can build a Get it Done! culture that will help your nonprofit win a championship . . . .season after season. Until then, create a great day! . . . Whooya!

So, what is culture? It’s the outward expression of how and why a non­profit operates. It consists of one or more of the following ele­ments: moral and ethical nature, guiding beliefs and standards, repeated behav­iors, cherished customs, unspoken understandings, shared inter­ests and values, and distinguishing style, character, and habits.

In simpler terms, culture answers the fun­damental questions, “What does it mean to be part of this board?” (board culture) “What does it mean to be part of this staff?” (staff culture) “What does it mean to be part of this organization?” (organizational culture). It also answers the question, how do we do things around here? How should we behave? And, what type of environment do we want to have.

For example, if I popped into your board meetings, what would I see? Excellence or mediocrity? Collaboration or contentiousness? Organization or disorganiza­tion? A “do something” attitude, or a “do as little as possible” attitude?

Ok. that's it for today. Until next time, remember to do what’s right for your nonprofit, not what’s convenient or easy! Whooya!

Tom Iselin

“America’s Best Board Retreat and Strategic Planning Facilitator”

Additional Resources:


Finding the Best Strategic Planning Facilitator – 7 Things to Look For

Find the Best Board Develop Facilitator and Trainer - 9 Things to Look For

Best Board Retreat and Strategic Planning Facilitation: Checklist for Hosting the Best Board Retreat and Strategic Planning Session Ever!

Tom's Books, Podcasts, and YouTube Channel

Check out Tom's latest books on culture, nonprofit management, and fundraising

Tom's YouTube Channel: The Nonprofit Mentor

Tom's Podcast: The Fundraising Coach

Tom's Podcast: The Nonprofit Mentor

About First Things First

Tom Iselin has built four sector-leading nonprofits and four foundations. He’s written six books, sits on six boards, and hosts a video blog and podcast. Each year, Tom speaks to more than 5,000 nonprofit leaders at conferences across the country. He is considered America's best board retreat and strategic planning facilitator and is a leading authority on high-performance nonprofits, and his impact on the industry has been featured on CNN, Nightline, and in Newsweek.

Tom is the president of First Things First, a business specializing in board development retreats, strategic planning, fundraising, executive coaching, and speaking. To relax, he loves mountain biking, hiking, skiing, tennis, and baking.

If you’re in the hunt for the best board retreat/board development facilitation, or the best strategic planning facilitation, it would be a privilege to learn more about your organization and the aspirations you hope to achieve as you work to propel your noble mission. Jot me an email to set up a meet-and-greet call.

To learn more, visit:

Author: Tom Iselin

Best Board Retreats

First Things First Homepage


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