How to communicate your nonprofit’s culture to prospective hires to ensure alignment and impact

By Lisa Brown Alexander
In September 26, 2016

Communicating your organization’s culture to potential team members is important to ensure everyone on your staff is aligned with your mission and vision for the future. But before you can communicate your culture, you have to first define it. Understanding and making your organization’s culture clear should be a top priority for all organizations interested in attracting top talent.

In his book “The Psychology of Behavior at Work,” organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham defines a candidate’s cultural fit as “congruence between the norms and values of the organization and those of the person.Culture can also serve as a unifying force in an organization or drive division and disengagement.

Once your culture is defined, you can communicate it to potential candidates to find the right team members to maximize your organization’s output and impact. Ultimately, a more intentional focus on hiring for culture fit can not only not enhance your organization’s performance (thinking impact and outcomes) but also your organization’s financial health (the wrong hire can cost thousands of dollars). The result of poor culture fit due to turnover can cost an organization between 50-60% of the person’s annual salary, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

How to define your organization’s culture

Even if you have an outstanding mission, a weak culture can hinder your ability to enact change and impact the communities that you are trying to serve. To get you started in the right direction, conduct a workplace culture assessment to help you understand where you are. Examples of questions you can ask in this survey include:

  •      How do you characterize this organization’s leadership?
  •      How would you describe the workplace culture? (This includes traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviors, etc.)
  •      What would you say are the barriers to your own individual effectiveness at work?

Once you’ve received answers to questions like these, take steps to address the areas of culture that are interfering with individual and organizational effectiveness and lean into the staff’s cultural observations that are aligned with your mission.

Culture is so crucial because similarly to your nonprofit’s mission and vision, your culture will be a guiding light in everything you do as an organization, including the projects you pursue and the people you hire. With an ill-defined culture, your organization’s efforts may be misguided and are more likely to fall short of your goals.

Expressing your culture to candidates

Your employees may have a clear understanding of your organization’s culture, but does it translate to job applicants? Illustrating your culture to prospective hires could be as simple as sharing the following during a candidate’s visit to your office:

  •      Mission and vision, guiding principles and values
  •      Benefits currently available to staff along with statements about how flexibility is handled.
  •      How team members are rewarded for excellent work
  •      Communication practices (hierarchical, open, candid, etc.)
  •      How team members balance or integrate their work and personal lives
  •      How team members work together (Are they more team-based or individual?)
  •      The events outside office hours that team members participate in (These may include holiday parties, team-building events and other social gatherings.)

When describing your culture, be honest about where you stand today. Take care to accurately express where you are currently, as well as where you want to be in the future, so you don’t mislead potential hire. If, for example, there is a strong value placed on consensus decision-making in your organization, hiring someone who prefers to work solo or make decisions independently, could result in a pretty significant conflict. This will ensure that when new team members are onboarded, they won’t be surprised by differences in cultural goals and ideals that were expressed to them during the interview process and your actual, present culture.

Of course, cultural fit is not synonymous for lacking in diversity. What it does mean is that the attitudes, behaviors and approaches of the applicant to work align to the mission and the purpose of your organization.

One of the best ways to ensure you’re accurately depicting your culture is to allow a prospective hire to experience it for him or herself. Invite your candidate to spend a few hours in your office on an average workday talking with employees, sitting in on meetings and observing team interactions. Showing is almost always more effective than telling.

Finding the right fit for your organization

It can be difficult to gauge cultural fit in the interview process, but asking the right interview questions can help. Consider questions like these:

  •      What’s your ideal work environment? What have you liked and disliked about the culture at organizations where you’ve worked in the past?
  •      What would you change about your current organization?
  •      What do you contribute to your current organization’s culture? What could you contribute to our culture if we were to hire you?
  •      What kinds of teams do you work best on?
  •      Describe your best relationship at your current job. Describe your worst relationship.

When candidates answer these questions, look for synergy and alignment with the culture you’ve defined for your organization. For example, when we’re interviewing for a position at Nonprofit HR, if a candidate says they’re the kind of person who prefers structured hierarchy and a lot of predictability, we consider it to be an indication they may not be a good fit for our team because we’re more fluid in our organizational structure and our approach to work.

Why cultural alignment is important

Communicating your culture in the hiring process and then staffing for cultural fit will benefit your organization and its mission in several key ways. Organizations with strong cultural alignment report higher levels of job satisfaction among their staff, better job performance and in turn, better overall organizational outputs.

To learn more about how Nonprofit HR can help your organization define your culture, hire culturally aligned talent and operate a healthy workplace, check out our case study on Access Living, a Chicago-based nonprofit that was able to strengthen its culture through a focus on HR strategy. And as always, please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions as you embark on the process of building a more culturally-aligned team.

Lisa is the President and CEO of Nonprofit HR. Under her direction, Nonprofit HR has served some of the most prominent organizations in the country, including Amnesty International, Independent Sector and NeighborWorks America. With more than two decades of human resource management experience working with nonprofits and for-profit organizations, Lisa and her firm have proven that better HR can play an integral role in nonprofit success. Nonprofits have benefited from her wealth of knowledge and experience to make their people-driven initiatives successful. She believes if an organization can strengthen its internal HR capacity, it can better serve the community and those in need. Lisa brings these beliefs to every engagement, and inspires nonprofit leaders to strengthen their most important asset: their people. Lisa is a graduate of Howard University in Washington D.C., a member of the Society for Human Resources Management and serves on the board of directors of Mentoring to Manhood, the Prince Georges Cultural Arts Foundation and is an advisory member of the Talent Philanthropy Project.

2 Comments

  1. This is soooo helpful!! Thank-you so much!

  2. this is very helpful! thanks for sharing!

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