Internal culture—the often unspoken guidelines that establish how to behave within an organization—plays a pivotal role in ensuring that your organization’s staff, board, and volunteers can efficiently and effectively advance their mission. Just as a healthy culture can facilitate an engaged and cooperative team, toxic cultures can significantly impair progress and damage your team’s wellbeing. This is why organizational leadership must prioritize creating a healthy and positive work culture and why ACE includes culture as a criterion in our charity evaluation work.
Fostering a good workplace culture means that your team is well-positioned to do their very best work; it is the cornerstone of a healthy group in the same way that proper nutrition is the cornerstone of a healthy body. Building this type of culture improves the relationship between the entire team, creating a dynamic where people feel comfortable raising concerns, contributing ideas, and working alongside their colleagues in collaborative and positive ways. It cultivates a workplace where employees are engaged and excited to come to work and where problems can be identified and fixed, rather than ignored and left to fester.
Identifying and solving issues as they crop up helps maintain smooth and efficient operations, but the benefits extend far beyond that. Showcasing your positive and sustainable internal culture will help you attract promising new talent while keeping your own. Rooting out problems and working towards solutions will reduce the turnover you will otherwise inevitably face as your team members become frustrated with a lack of improvement and progress. Hiring and training new staff is a tremendous strain on resources, and the departure of experienced staff means losing crucial institutional knowledge, so working to cultivate a strong culture will help ensure a strong organization overall.
For the above reasons and more, we include culture as one of our four charity evaluation criteria. While good organizational culture can be hard to define, we have identified some indicators of bad workplace culture: increased turnover and absenteeism; poor leadership qualities, such as lack of accountability or behaving in ways that are inconsistent with the organization’s values; high-pressure environments; fear of retaliation for voicing concerns; unhealthy relationship dynamics between employees; and lack of representation, equity, and inclusion (REI) initiatives. Because we recognize that these indicators of poor workplace culture impact the effectiveness of the charities we evaluate, we have sometimes decided not to recommend groups, even if they are sometimes strong in other ways. The impact of a bad culture may not be felt immediately, but we are confident that the effects will manifest eventually if left unresolved.
Building and maintaining a positive internal culture can make or break your organization. Failing to devote the appropriate amount of time and resources to cultivating strong culture can significantly hinder an organization’s ability to effectively complete their work. We saw this at ACE over the past year, as we experienced significant challenges with culture—which we’ve listed on our mistakes page—that negatively impacted our ability to accomplish our yearly goals. We have committed to improving in these areas, even listing the empowerment of our team as one of our three core focus areas in our latest three-year strategic plan.1 Only by recognizing problems with internal culture and committing to fixing them can we efficiently and effectively accomplish our mission.