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Nonprofit Culture - Facets of Kindness and Relationships (episode 17, part 6 of 10)

Updated: Apr 24



In this video, you'll learn about two more key "facets" every nonprofit culture should include - deepening personal relationships, kindness, and caring, especially if you work in a small organization. Remember, people like to do business with people they like, trust, and know -- and care about.


by Tom Iselin

“America’s Best Board Retreat Facilitator”



Hi, Tom Iselin, here . . . and welcome to First Things First. This is Day 17 of Boot Camp—A Leadership Guide to Building a Gold Standard Nonprofit. Today, I’m continuing the series on how to build a “Get it Done!” CULTURE.


In the previous episode, I suggested a couple of cultural facets that you should consider incorporating into your organizational culture—safety and giving people a voice. Today, I would like to discuss two more—1. getting personal, and 2. kindness and caring.


If you’re in the nonprofit world long enough, you learn successful nonprofits have cultures that value and encourage close personal rela­tionships. The result is a team spirit atmosphere that is fun, friendly, and resilient.


“Getting personal” is another facet for developing a strong culture be­cause relationships play such an important role in the success of nonprofits, especially emerging nonprofits, where the number of staff and board members tends to be small.


When you have a staff of six sharing a 20x15 office, it’s difficult to hide irritations, phobias, and character flaws. Sooner or later, everyone’s true nature unveils itself. The last thing a small and busy nonprofit needs is a reason to dilute its limited resources to babysit ongoing personal drama or passive-aggressive behavior.


One of the tactics you can use to develop close, personal relationships is to get staff, board members, and key volunteers to do fun, social activi­ties together.


For example, instead of taking staff out to a restau­rant for lunch, take them on a picnic. Host a board meeting at a board member’s home and kick off the meeting with a wine tasting. Take a field trip to the state fair, a sports game, or to a museum. Volunteer as a team to help another wor­thy cause in your area.


If you hold a leadership role at your nonprofit, challenge yourself to lie back and give up control during offsite activi­ties. The purpose of your time with staff, board members, and volun­teers is to have fun and deepen relationships.


The last thing they need when you’re all out for a night of bowling is to feel like they are still at “work” with you controlling the show. Talk less, laugh more, and go with the flow.


One of my favorite methods of deepening relationships with staff is asking personal questions in team settings such as a morning meeting, team lunch, or on top of a hill during a team mountain bike ride.


Timing is key and I’m careful to ask questions in a manner that flows with the ongoing conversation and seems natural. The goal is to get people to share their thoughts and feelings, and the likelihood of this happening is much higher if they don’t feel like a local reporter is conducting an interview.


Some of my favorite questions include: “What is your favorite hobby?” “What’s one of your quirky habits?” “What is the most unusual pet you ever had?” “What is the funniest memory you have of high school?” We then go around the table and everyone shares a response, most of which bring about howls and laughs for all to enjoy.


Strong cultures require healthy personal relationships. Spending time doing fun activities and asking personal questions happen to be my fa­vorite methods to accomplish this task.


No matter what methods you use, I suggest setting aside time on a regular basis to allow your staff and board to deepen relationships and build friendships. The stronger per­sonal bonds you create with the people most closely connected to your nonprofit, the stronger and more stable your culture will be.


Another important facet your nonprofit should consider adding to it’s organizational cultures is the facet of “kindness and caring”. The vicis­situdes of life are inevitable, but they can be disruptive. There are no shortages of people who suffer with the flu, struggle to qualify for a home loan, battle with cancer, face the death of a loved one, or find themselves without a car because of a dead battery.


A kind and caring culture creates a neighborly environment of helping others in need. When a board member is sick, have board members pre­pare and deliver a few home-cooked meals. If one of your staff is trying to qualify for his first home loan, ask your bookkeeper if she is willing to help him fill out the paperwork. If an intern’s car won’t start because her battery is dead, perhaps a volunteer could drive to her home and jumpstart her car.


So the question is . . . do you show as much care for your fellow board and staff members as you do for the people you serve? Interesting to think about, isn’t it?


It may seem a bit old-fashioned, but a kind and caring culture creates an environment where people feel safe, loved, and appreciated.


No, you don’t have to create a Leave it to Beaver workplace environment, but you can create a workplace where people can take comfort in knowing that if something in their life were to turn sour, a team of caring people is close by think­ing of ways to turn their lemons into lemonade.


Remember, when building a culture, the fundamental questions you need answer are . . . “What does it mean to be part of this organization?” “What guiding beliefs should we follow?” “What standards should we uphold?” “What behaviors should we model?”


These are important questions to ask . . . and the facets you choose to define your culture should reflect your answers.


That’s if for today. In the next episode, I’ll tell you how you can give your staff culture a morale boost by providing them with some flex-time. Until then . . . Who-ya!


By the way, if you’re enjoying this series, like this video and share it with a friend. Until next time . . . Whooya!



Tom Iselin

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


Additional Resources:

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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:

858.888.2278


Looking for answers?

I’m here to help. Contact me . . .

TomIselin@gmail.com, or 858.888.2278


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