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Nonprofit Culture - Healthy Culture (episode 14, part 3 of 10)

Updated: Apr 24

When the culture of a nonprofit is well defined, unified, and promoted within, it establishes a foundation on which every operational and programming structure can be built. Building a culture early on is important because it's a lot easier to fold people into a healthy culture than to try to change an unhealthy culture, or than to try to change people. Learn how to build a "get it done" culture rooted in authentic passion.

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”

Hi, Tom Iselin, here . . . and welcome to First Things First. This is Day 14 of Boot Camp—A Leadership Guide to Building a Gold Standard Nonprofit. Today, I’m continuing the series on how to create a “Get it Done!” CULTURE – and WHY it’s so important to define a culture earlier than later.

Ok, let’s get started. If you’re a new nonprofit, you’re in the perfect position to build a culture. Why? Because the earlier you establish a culture, the more easily you’ll be able to define it, fold people into it, manage it, and build an organization around it.

A>See, if you don’t define a culture early on, you run the risk of an unhealthy, dysfunction, or lackluster culture taking a foothold. When that happens, it’s difficult to change a culture because it can infect all areas of a nonprofit (board, staff, operations, and programming). The deeper and more widespread the infection, the more work it takes to “heal” and change a culture.

But mostly, it’s difficult to change a culture because people can be resistant to change—even if the culture is unhealthy. Think about it, have you ever worked or been involved with an unhealthy culture?

Exactly . . . it’s a mess! People can be rude, bitter, disengaged, unproductive, gossipy—you name it! Cultures with attributes such as these can be difficult to change, because people can be reluctant to change. I think we all know that it’s a lot easier to fold people into an existing, healthy culture than trying to change an unhealthy culture, or trying to change people. Therefore, the earlier in your lifecycle you can build a culture, the better.

On the other hand, if you’ve been in business a while and your culture is a little rough around the edges, or your culture is undefined, don’t despair . . . there is hope. The biggest obstacle you’ll face as an older nonprofit is inertia.

People are stubborn souls. The get set in their ways, and in most instances, they are reluctant to make changes, especially cultural changes, even if the result would mean increased productivity, improved relationships, and an all-around better work atmosphere.

Silly, isn’t it? But this is why it’s so important to establish a process that allows you to BRING ON and RETAIN HIGH QUALITY people who are Authentically PASSIONATE to “work” to “fulfill” your mission. Because the more high quality, authentically passionate people you have at your organization, the easier it will be to create—and sustain—a healthy, high-performance, “Get it Done! culture.

L> Ok, let’s get back on track. If you’ve been in business for a while and you need to build a culture or change the one you have, it’s going to take some WORK. Count on it taking more time and effort than you expect, and count on differences of opinion and a few head-butts.

To reduce the barriers of change, find a handful of respected staff and board members willing to champion the undertaking. By taking this route, you’ll find others more willing to follow suit, and you’ll increase the chances of a smooth and drama-free adoption and transition process.

If the chief executive and board cannot agree whether to establish a culture, modify the current culture, or establish a process of adopting a culture, hire a consultant. Running a nonprofit is difficult enough, so there is no need to create undue tension. A good consultant can facili­tate the process, untangle knots, and keep the atmosphere civil.

Once a majority of board and staff agree that it’s in the organization’s best interest to build a culture, or modify its culture, then you’ll need to start the process of defining the cultural attributes of the type of culture you’d like to – or as I like to call them . . . cultural “facets.”

To start the process, you need to assess the type of culture you currently have. After that, you need to determine the type for culture you’d like to have. And next week, I’m going to show how to do both. So until then, create a great day! . . . “Who-ya”

Well, that’s today. Tune in next week, when I’ll continue the subject of why it’s important to build a culture sooner than later. And don’t forget to write me. Ask me a question or tell me what you’d like see on the show. Until next week . . . Who-ya!

Remember, “culture” answers the simple question, “What does it mean to be part of this organization?” “If you want to build a staff culture, the questions is, “What does it mean to be part of this staff?” “If you want to build a board culture, the question to ask is, “What does it mean to be part of this board?” So, for a high-performance, “Get it Done!” culture, many of the facets would include things like work, excellence, accountability, teamwork, courage, innovation.

Until then, remember to do what’s right for your nonprofit, not what’s convenient or easy! Whooya!

And don’t forget to write me. Ask me a question or tell me what you’d like see on the show. Until next week . . .

That’s it for today. If you enjoyed the show, . . . then like it and share it! And tune in next week for Day 5 of Boot Camp, where you’ll learn how to transform “lip-service” passion into authentic passion.

Until then, create a great day! . . . Whooya!

Tom Iselin

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

Additional Resources:


Tom's Books, Podcasts, and YouTube Channel

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:


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