One of my favorite Star Trek episodes was the one where the men inhabited the surface of the planet, the women lived underground; Mr. Spock’s brain had been kidnapped to run the planet. As Captain Kirk badgered the leader of the women to release Spock’s brain back to the Enterprise, she replied,
“Brain and brain, what is Brain?” She had never known or understood what a brain actually was or how it functioned; only that was crucial to ensure the survival of the planet and species.
The same problem plagues the concept of culture, particularly as the poor word has been so abused lately with terms such as ‘corporate culture’ or ‘the culture of philanthropy’ that we are advised to create within our organizations. The term and concept are tossed around quite offhandedly, without really knowing what it is.
What IS culture anyway?
What is culture, how do we get it and what do we do with it when we find out what kind we have?
Culture can be several things, and has many definitions, but for the purpose of a nonprofit organization, it is the definition that we must understand before we can begin to create one. In an organization, the culture is the combination of the attitudes and behavior of the organization as a whole. ( as defined by me).
What is the culture of your organization?
- Friendly and casual or more formal and business-like
- Community- focused, or more office bound
- Stickler for details or loosey-goosey about dotting the I’s and crossing the t’s
- Structured meeting plans, programs and budgets, or make- it-up as- we- need to
- Unified message with an inclusive membership or divided and divisive?
One of the easiest ways to check your culture is to contact the organization as a newcomer: how are you greeted, what kind of information is offered on the website, how are questions answered? It is so easy to lose perspective from the inside and not really see how the ‘feeling’ of your company is perceived. But I bet you already know what kind of culture describes your group.
Where does this culture come from?
In general, organizational culture is a reflection of the leadership, executive staff and board, and often set by example. The ethics, integrity and conduct of these folks, in good times and in bad, set the tone for other staff, members and constituents. And what about the internal culture of your organization? How do the staff and volunteers interact with each other, new clients, guests and vendors?
It is incumbent upon those who commit to any initiative, mission or organization to understand their contribution towards that culture, particularly for the leadership. Lead by example, show in word and need what is valuable and honorable. Creating a culture of philanthropy is much more than a bunch of nice sounding words, it requires a conscious understanding of what culture is, where is comes from and how it can be sustained and shared.
If you’d like to get to the bottom of your company’s culture get in touch by email here or by voice on 310 828 6979.
Cindy Lauren is the Principal of Lauren Associates – non profit consulting
As well as advising Executives and Boards on all aspects of nonprofit management, the firm specializes in developing fundraising solutions for all sizes of organizations.
301 Spocks Brain 03 by Mr. Scradam on Flickr.