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How to Build a High-Performing Nonprofit Culture

By Sheri Chaney Jones, CEO & Founder, SureImpact

Many nonprofit organizations today are facing staff and resource shortages, while attempting to increase their services to meet increased demand in the community. However, many nonprofits also resign themselves to a mindset of not having enough resources to meet the needs, limiting their own growth. Instead, more nonprofits need to ask: where can we make the biggest impact? What would it take to make this happen? What skillsets are needed? How many staff would we need to hire to execute the work? What training do our current staff need to receive? How do we increase staff satisfaction in order encourage high-achieving, self-motivated team members?

If you want to grow and expand your impact, are you willing to believe in yourself to create the maximum impact for your mission? What can you as a nonprofit leader do to help your staff do more with fewer resources while continuing to improve outcomes for your participants? The key is to create and maintain a high-performing culture that increases efficiency and enables your staff to excel.

Over the last twenty plus years, I have advised hundreds of nonprofit and government leaders on the best way to create a high-performing culture that magnifies the talents of your staff and helps them achieve more. Based on my experience, I have put together the following recommendations to help you get started building a high-performing culture in your organization.

1. Cultivating Organizational Purpose Through Your Example

Great organizations have leaders that never take their eyes off the mission. They lead with personal humility and passion for the mission, and they will do whatever it takes to fully realize this mission. They also instill this same passion in their staff by helping them see the larger picture and successfully align their efforts with the mission and purpose. Change can be difficult, but leaders that succeed are able to redirect and mobilize organizational energy in ways that enhance quality and improve effectiveness. Your actions, words, and deeds must be consistent with the desired new culture in order to gain staff buy in.

2. Creating a Culture of Ongoing Learning

Forbes defines a culture of ongoing learning as “conditions that support an open mindset, encourage an independent search for knowledge and welcome shared learning that focuses on not only the mission but the goals of an organization.” Leaders who create strong nonprofit teams view ongoing training as lifeblood of the organization. They support and encourage continual training around operations and employee development. Training occurs in a variety of experiences: workshops, conferences, job shadowing, trial and error, webinars, books, etc. Another possible resource is peer coaching. A good way to start is setting specific times when peers share tips, insights or praise with one another.

3. Giving Staff Autonomy

Successful leaders empower staff and create organizational structures that permit innovation and initiative from staff. When staff members are kept informed through continuous training and feedback, they are likely to have new and fresh ideas to improve the impact and efficiency of an organization. Successful organizations have a process for allowing staff to take initiative and implement new ideas while rewarding them for their efforts. Successful leaders understand that not all new ideas succeed, and that is okay. Leaders communicate to staff that learning from failures is part of the journey to success.

4. Use Results to Set Performance Goals

As humans, setting goals helps us focus because we get feedback on our progress. Researchers have found that setting goals can help employees feel a greater connection to their organization. Not only does this contribute to increased optimism, but it also encourages better employee performance.

Make your staff’s performance results actionable. Take your client or stakeholder satisfaction surveys and create individual and staff performance goals informed by the results. Review the results regularly as a team and discuss how you can improve as an organization. The message is sent that these results are a valuable part of your organization’s culture.

5. Reward Team for Data Compliance

A common struggle I hear from many nonprofit leaders is the difficulty of ensuring staff are consistently collecting the correct data. In order to overcome this challenge, it is important to change the culture in a positive way around data compliance. Instead of nagging staff about poor compliance, set measurable goals. For example, you could set a goal that by next quarter, 95% of the data will be collected on time. If the staff reaches it, give them a special team reward. It could include a pizza party, lunch out, afternoon off, bonus – whatever is appropriate for your specific organization. Make sure to share with your team what you are doing with the information collected so they will see how the data they collected are being used to continue moving toward your organizational goals.

SureImpact is a purpose-built impact management platform that is designed for social-good providers by social-good providers. SureImpact provides the data collection and impact reporting infrastructure to meet the unique needs of social-good organizations with multiple programs and diverse participants. SureImpact’s simple and collaborative case management and outcome tracking tools are designed to help nonprofits manage, measure, and communicate their social impact while also increasing data capacity for their team members and supporting a high-performing culture.

To learn more about SureImpact, check out our Quick Product Tour.


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