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Nonprofit Culture - Summary (episode 21, part 10 of 10)

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

In this video, you'll hear a recap of all I've covered as you build and nurture a high-performance, get it done, culture for your staff and board. It provides great reminders and some action items. Enjoy!

by Tom Iselin

“America’s Best Board Retreat Facilitator”

Hi, Tom Iselin, here . . . and welcome to First Things First.

This is Day 20 of Boot Camp-A Leadership Guide to Building a Gold Standard Nonprofit.

Today, I am concluding this series on how to build "Get it Done!" culture by providing a few key takeaways you'll want to keep in mind when build YOUR culture.

As you've learned over last 9 episodes, a strong, well-defined culture is one of the key cornerstones you must put in place if you want to build a high-performance, gold standard, "Get it Done!" nonprofit.

Once your culture in place and functioning well, it becomes a collective mindset and moral beacon for all that your nonprofit says and does, and it becomes a powerful and unifying force to propel you to your dreams.

I'm not going to kid you; building a culture of any type (board, staff, or organizational) is going to take some work. Defining a culture is a bit challenging, because culture is an abstract concept like happiness and beauty . . . which is why it's so easy to spot, but difficult to define.

For example: It's easy to spot a toxic work environment, or a boardroom filled with disengaged board members . . . You can SEE that the culture is unhealthy. But defining a healthy staff or board culture is a much different story.

Culture, as you recall, is the outward expression of how and why a nonprofit operates. It answers the fundamental questions: What does it mean to part of your organization? What does it mean to be on your board? What does it mean to be on your staff? What does it mean to be a volunteer?

Remember your mission tells people what you do. Your vision tells people where you are going. But your culture tells people who you ARE? It tells people what you Stand for? . . . It tells people what you Believe.

This is important to understand because if you don't know - collectively - who you are, what you stand for, or what you believe . . . how can you effectively fulfill your mission . . . how can you expect you'll end up where you want to go?

Many nonprofits hobble along and never seem to hit their stride and achieve success because they don't have a culture. The reason why it's imperative to develop a well-defined culture is because it creates a unifying force - and ethos - that yokes the hearts, minds, and actions of everyone connected with the nonprofit to fulfill its mission . . .

It creates a holistic environment, a prevailing spirit that permeates everything that is said and done.

There are lots of cultural elements you can use to define your culture, but the three most important are: guiding beliefs, standards, and behaviors. Next, you'll want to come up with the specific, descriptive words and phases (cultural facets) that help you define and symbolize your culture . . . words such as "excellence" "accountability" "teamwork" "impact" and "honest communication."

When defining your culture, you'll want to think in terms of simplicity, so think of facets that best define the "essence" -- the "ethos" -- of the type of culture you'd like have.

To make your culture easy to grasp for people, you'll want to write a two- or three-sentence "culture statement" that is narrative of the facets you defined. After that, you'll want to come up with ways to reflect your culture in day-to-day operations and in people's behavior.

You'll also, want to find ways to celebrate your culture by talking about it at fundraising events, board meetings, or at social activities involving board members and staff.

And last, since people forget easily, you'll want to come up with ways to remind people of the culture you've adopted. You can write your culture statement on a wall, talk about your culture in annual reports, share it at volunteer training sessions, or discuss it at your strategic planning retreat.

So, What would YOUR nonprofit have to do to define and adopt an organizational culture or a board culture? What can you do in the next week to start the process?

To help you kickoff the process, I have a book and a workbook that will walk you the through the process. Also, I facilitate workshops on how to build cultures. If you're interested, give me a call.

Otherwise, visit the website for additional First Things First training videos and books. And don't forget to write me. Ask me a question or tell me what you'd like see on the show. Until next time, remember to do what's right for your nonprofit, now what's convenient or easy. . . Whoo-ya!

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.

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