How to Build a Culture that Leaves Behind a Legacy

“We’re not like the other nonprofits, we’re a cool nonprofit.”

“We’ll throw in casual Fridays! Done. Our nonprofit’s culture ROCKS.”

“Yeah, let’s give them the day after #GivingTuesday off to show them we care. Back to work on Thursday, folks!”

These statements shouldn’t be the norm, but I guarantee they’ve come out of some of your mouths at some point. (Sorry for calling you out, Steve.) While these ideas are a good starting point, company culture is so much more than a one-time activity here and a day-off there, or feeling the need to spend money to try to look fun.

Company culture is the thread that weaves together the fabric that makes up your nonprofit scarf. Er, sweater? Anyhow, you get the idea. Let’s talk about why culture matters, some basic company culture steps your nonprofit can take right now and the things you can do to ensure your organization’s culture leaves a legacy for the future.

Why Culture Matters

Awhile back one of our my good friends Marc Pitman presented a webinar with me. He called upon the late author and business-great Peter Drucker.

Drucker is attributed with saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Is strategy important? You bet it is. That’s why we focus so much on constantly making ourselves better. At Nonprofit Hub, we have weekly strategy meetings and even bigger-picture meetings every quarter to lay out what’s next. But without a solid foundation, the strategy would crumble.

Think about it — culture is about creating an environment and a workspace where everybody feels empowered to do the best they can do. With an encouraging and positive culture, staff and volunteers alike will feel empowered to do their best.

Leadership definitely sets the tone, but it also comes down to what your staff members want. Have you tried, I don’t know, asking them? You know what they say about assuming things… Okay I don’t either. Just, don’t do it. Find out what your staff, volunteers and board members are looking for when working at an organization.

A Look at the Basics

Before we get to the legacy-building stuff, let’s get the foundation set. After all, if you don’t have the basics down you can’t take it to the next level. Here’s how you can start building a culture your nonprofit staff and volunteers will want to rally around.

  • Be sure leadership sets the tone
    This magazine is chock full of tips to ensure your leadership team is the best of the best. They’ve also got to walk the walk when it comes to the type of culture you hope to create.
  • Assign an owner
    If you don’t have anybody dedicated to making sure your culture is taken care of, nobody will do it.
  • Listen to your staff and volunteers
    A happy staff is a happy nonprofit culture. Constantly ask them what’s going on and how you can improve.
  • Be sure that your company’s culture allows people to make honest mistakes
    Harsh punishment for messing up isn’t in the recipe for great culture. An encouraging environment, however, will allow staff to take risks and learn from failures.
  • Show staff members how their jobs affect the financial bottom line
    When people can see value in their job and understand how important they are, they’re motivated to do a better job.

Now that we’ve set the tone, it’s time to kick it up a notch.

The Type of Company Culture that Leaves a Legacy

Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither are legacies. Truthfully, setting out to build a legacy is a sure-fire way to fail. It’s the small feats that add up to be a huge deal in the end. I’ve seen countless organizations start out with enough gusto to convince you they’re destined for greatness. Sure, it works out for awhile, but then they wonder what happened and how it all came crashing down.

The ones who really stick around and have made some of the most lasting impacts I’ve seen knew to break down their goals into manageable steps.

Think of your culture as a structure. Like… a Lego structure. Thanks to my friend Google, I learned the largest Lego tower to date is at Legoland in Germany, and is built of over 500,000 Lego bricks. Oof, that’s must have been a big box. Each feat from your nonprofit is like one of those lego bricks. Will it take 500,000 “bricks” for your organization’s culture to build a legacy? Who knows. Only time will tell. But I can guarantee the more pieces you add, the stronger your culture will become. One brick at a time. 


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Randy Hawthorne

As the former Executive Director and Editor for Nonprofit Hub and a Professional Certified Marketer, Randy shares his passions of marketing and education with nonprofits to help them implement marketing and organizational leadership principles so they can grow their organizations. Randy lends his marketing and organizational leadership expertise to a number of nonprofits in his community. Outside the office, Randy works with high school and college students and mentors young professionals to develop their leadership and entrepreneurial skills.

December 28, 2016

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