Culture Resource Guide

Culture Resource Guide

Culture Resource Guide: Assess

  • July 2, 2018

Once we have gained a good understanding of the culture of our organizations, it’s time to assess the degree to which that culture supports our values, goals, mission and vision.

This means taking a deep look at how our basic, underlying assumptions may be standing in the way of our ability to accelerate impact and support nonprofits to be successful. It also means asking tough questions about which aspects of our current culture reflect and reinforce the values and strategies at the heart of our work and which aspects do not.

In other words, does our culture support our ability to do what we want in the world? What is the gap between our current culture and our aspired culture?

What Kind of Culture Do We Want?

Every grantmaker will need to decide for itself what kind of organizational culture will best support it to get to the outcomes it wants to achieve. While there is no one right organizational culture, GEO’s interviews and research have lifted up some of the core attributes of foundation culture that grantmakers and nonprofits believe are important for effective philanthropy. These attributes can serve as benchmarks as we assess the culture of our organizations and how the current culture does — or does not — help us do our best work.

Collaboration and partnership. An organizational culture that encourages and supports boards, staff, nonprofits and other partners to work together toward shared goals.

Diversity, equity and inclusion. An organizational culture that advances and embraces diversity, equity and inclusion and that supports staff and board to build cross-cultural competence.

Respect and humility. An organizational culture that values the expertise and the perspectives of nonprofits and communities and that works to bridge the power divide between philanthropy and nonprofits.

Responsiveness. An organizational culture that prioritizes accessibility and responsiveness to nonprofits and applicants, including courteous and prompt processing of communications and transactions.

Transparency and trust. An organizational culture that prioritizes open communication and trust-building among and across the board, staff, nonprofits and partners.

Curiosity and learning. An organizational culture that prioritizes learning for improvement as staff and board regularly assess their performance, embrace failure and explore how to do better.

Many of these cultural attributes reinforce each other. Collaborative cultures, for example, nurture more transparency and trust, just as cultures founded on respect and humility can create more fertile conditions for a responsive approach to grantmaking.

GEO is convinced that grantmakers with cultures that reflect these attributes will be more successful in adopting the practices that are most critical to supporting nonprofit success. However, every grantmaker will need to decide for itself what kind of organizational culture — or what cultural attributes — will best support it to get to the outcomes it wants to achieve.

Grantmakers can engage in assessment in a number of ways – there are quantitative tools that you can use to get a culture baseline and measure change over time. You can also conduct a qualitative assessment through interviews, focus groups or other small group conversations – which will help explore the nuance and complexity of your culture that a quantitative assessment can’t get at. Most organizations find that a mix of quantitative and qualitative assessment is most helpful.

Questions to Ask

  • How well does our current culture align with our strategy and values? Where is there dissonance between our espoused values and our behaviors? Which underlying assumptions or norms might explain our behavior? Which aspects of our culture are unproductive?
  • Which aspects of our culture matter most to staff, to the board and to external stakeholders in terms of each group’s ability to do its work effectively and efficiently and to have a positive impact?
  • To what extent does the existence of specific microcultures in our organization — as well as their values, assumptions and behaviors — illuminate positive or negative aspects of the larger culture? In which ways do microcultures, or aspects of them, advance or detract from our organization’s effectiveness in supporting nonprofits to succeed?
  • What does our aspirational culture look like for our organization? For example, how do we want to be perceived by staff, trustees, grantees and so forth?
  • To what extent are we as an organization being attentive to diversity, equity and inclusion? How can we build an organizational culture where all people have opportunities to share power, own their contributions, and feel valued, needed, and acknowledged? To what extent are we tapping into diverse voices and perspectives to help guide our work?
  • Which barriers or obstacles get in the way of moving from our current culture to our aspired culture?

By engaging staff, board, nonprofits and others in conversations about culture, we can develop a better sense of where we are doing well and where we aren’t — and we can set the stage for action to move to the next phase and shift our culture.