New ways of working can lead to burnout, but building a healthy environment with strong leadership, people, and culture is the key to a thriving team.

The last few years have undeniably changed the way people work. Remote work flexibility has advanced from a desirable benefit to an expectation, and returning to the traditional office environment continues to be debated. How does fundraising evolve as a relationship-based business to meet stakeholder needs, including employees, volunteers and donors? How do we best respond to the continuing need for a thriving nonprofit culture to drive performance versus the need to use technology to facilitate work and allow for enhanced work-life balance for employees?

The answer, we believe, lies in finding the right intersection of leadership, culture, and people at your nonprofit.

Venn diagram with the words

Ensure Leadership Sets the (Right) Tone

Thriving in today’s organizational environment requires thoughtful and deliberate leadership, generally understood to directly correlate to organizational performance. Poor leaders often leave money on the table, while effective leaders know how to make a profit and keep the needs of their key stakeholders at the forefront of their decision-making.

The most extraordinary leaders help establish norms for how individuals carry out their organization’s work, align that work to mission, and build an organizational culture that meets the needs of all stakeholders.

Acknowledge and Understand Culture Complexities

Culture defines what an organization encourages, discourages, accepts, or rejects and is anchored in unspoken behaviors, mindsets, and social patterns. While leadership must directionally set an effective culture, organizations must simultaneously recognize culture’s multi-faceted and multi-layered intricacies.

Factors That Anchor and Alter an Organization’s Cultural Trajectory

Leadership is responsible for recognizing and understanding the various external and internal characteristics influencing its organizational culture and reconciling that with its vision for a cultural ideal state.

Build a Great Team by Putting People First

As important as leadership and planning are to organizational culture, change is fully co-dependent on adoption and implementation by the people working within the culture. Each team member can add to, complement, or detract from leadership’s cultural planning and intentions. The people themselves must buy in to the cultural design, execution, and accountability to enable the strongest likelihood of success for collective cultural change.

Unfortunately, the people needed to create a thriving culture are often the same ones embattled with troubling workplace dynamics.

Remote Work Can Lead to Burnout

Workers and managers often view remote work as the modern solution to these challenges, and most job seekers now look for remote-only jobs. Yet this flexibility often creates additional unanticipated challenges requiring attention. Most remote workers state that the flexibility results in longer hours and burnout, with no clear start or finish to their workday. Putting your people first will address these issues, add to your culture, and aid recruitment and retention efforts.

Focus on Performance AND People

Fundraising outcomes are ultimately the most important development performance measurements. An organization with the best leadership and culture cannot maintain its culture or keep its people if it cannot raise money. A similar outcome will befall an organization that only focuses on fundraising performance at the expense of its people. An organization that deploys an intentional leadership-driven cultural strategy with a people-first approach is most likely to see success in today’s workplace environment. St. Joseph Catholic Church, for example, was able to raise its sights, engage prospects, and secure major gifts when CCS leveraged their strong clergy leadership for fundraising.

Becoming people-first requires setting and codifying expectations of leaders and managers, and the remainder of the team, concerning work logistics, core behaviors, and professional growth, among other things.

Steps to Build a THRIVING NONPROFIT Culture

Work logistics must be defined and consistently applied to adapt to the organization’s particular culture and its team members.

Consider the Optimal Environment for Your Team’s Work

Thriving organizations often utilize a hybrid approach (e.g., 3 days in the office and 2 days remote). If you adopt this approach, consider how best to address mentorship and professional development.

Be Flexible

Recognize that your team members have lives outside of work and offer flexibility for personal circumstances. Thriving cultures recognize their people’s personal lives, offering support and flexibility in times of personal need.

Bring Your Team Together Occasionally

Consider some mandatory in-person meetings. Thriving cultures often require in-person meetings for team meetings, one-on-one check-ins with a supervisor, or team retreats. To avoid burnout, consider small steps, such as confining email to certain hours of the day, limiting evening communication and work when feasible, and considering email or meeting-free afternoons. An employee’s greatest barrier to effectively contributing to cultural development is often the unconstrained measures leadership creates through specific actions or standards.

Provide the Resources Necessary for Success

Invest in the tools needed for people to be successful. Thriving cultures anticipate and provide workplace tools and technology to support the modern workplace.

Continually Focus on Culture

Keep culture top of mind. Thriving cultures often create leadership-sponsored, staff-driven committees focusing on culture, interpersonal relationships, and overall workplace well-being, manifested through weekly newsletters, incorporation into staff retreats, internal clubs, and education opportunities.

What a THRIVING NONPROFIT Culture Looks Like

Core behaviors must also be articulated and modeled to effectively permeate into organizational culture. As leaders, team members, and colleagues, thriving cultures tend to:

Regardless of work logistics and core behaviors, a people-first approach requires an emphasis on retaining the best people through professional growth opportunities and competitive compensation:

Modern Challenges Require Modern Leadership

As the workplace environment evolves, today’s “new normal” will quickly become outdated. Yet the strategies to support a thriving nonprofit culture in today’s “new normal” are fundamental building blocks that will likely support a thriving team in the “next normal” and beyond. An intentional people-first cultural strategy, led by and defined through exemplary leadership, will create the optimal opportunity to address modern workplace challenges.

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