Your organization relies on a passionate, purpose-driven team to advance its mission. Are you fostering an environment that breeds high performance, retention and engagement? Or does your nonprofit have a culture problem?

Last month, we shared advice on conducting a cultural needs assessment to uncover strengths and gaps in your nonprofit’s culture. But after that cultural needs assessment is complete, it’s time to interpret and analyze the results and take action. In the process, you may see a number of potential problems come to light—signs that your organization may be facing cultural challenges.

Here’s what to look out for:

  1. No shared ownership. Without an overarching commitment to a clear, common mission, your organization cannot thrive. If employees give feedback about not having a sense of purpose or being unclear on how their work contributes to the larger mission, you may need to build a greater sense of community within your organization’s culture and do more to emphasize the intended impact of all employees.
  2. Communication breakdown. This issue could present itself in various ways, such as as a lack of open, honest communication from leadership or a sense that input or feedback from staff is not valued. Opportunities to speak up and to listen are equally important for fostering a supportive “teamwork” mentality. Culture involves all parties within an organization, so good communication between and among everyone—leaders, staff, volunteers—needs to be a priority in creating a positive workplace.
  3. Lack of accountability or ineffective accountability processes. The results of your cultural needs assessment may indicate that day-to-day accountability, regular performance evaluations and current forms of recognition don’t provide adequate motivation. To encourage engagement and productivity, people must be held accountable and rewarded for their performance. Your workplace culture goes a long way in putting those all-important pieces in play.
  4. No room for creativity. Perhaps your needs assessment tells a tale of an organization that sticks to the “status quo” and defaults to “the way we’ve always done things.” If you’re finding that employees feel restricted by time, resources, processes or other elements of your workplace culture, spend some time considering new ways to encourage innovation. Nonprofits grow and succeed when staff have the freedom and ability to generate new, fresh ideas.
  5. Cross-cultural miscommunication or a lack of diversity. Maybe your feedback shows a need to move outside of individual cultural lenses and see others’ perspectives. Or you may discover frustration about a lack of diversity or a separation between different social or ethnic groups within the organization. In today’s global workplace, nonprofits are building relationships and exchanging ideas across the world, so doing the same within organizations is key. Understanding differences and recognizing strengths allows for a richer context within your workplace culture.

Next steps

What comes next? It’s time to share results of your cultural needs assessment and your corresponding plans for action with leadership and staff alike. Be responsive. Get people across the organization involved in finding solutions. Work toward immediate improvements and positive change—and don’t forget to communicate and celebrate progress.

Creating a strong organizational culture is not about making everyone think or feel the same way. It’s about creating an environment where everyone is empowered to do their best work and fulfill a common mission.

Want more? Register for the the 2016 Nonprofit Talent & Culture Summit and make sure to catch Timothy McClimon’s talk, where he’ll share the stories of American Express Foundation grantees who have overcome culture challenges and strengthened their organizations to do more for the communities they serve. Register here.


When One Hope United, a Chicago-based social and human services agency called upon Nonprofit HR, they were in crisis mode. Now, HR at One Hope United has been transformed to be much more than payroll and procedures; it is about talent, culture, performance and strategy. Download the full case study here to learn more about how One Hope United worked with Nonprofit HR to evolve its HR function from tactical agent to strategic business partner and drove cultural change.

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