Regardless of the size of your budget or the number of financial transactions your nonprofit makes annually, every donor, funder, vendor, and worker that engages with your organization will experience your financial culture in some way. Culture is the way a group of people come together. Your nonprofit’s finance culture stems from your procedures, policies, and practices. Your finance culture really matters in your organization’s overall financial stability and long-term development as well as your relationships with funders.

Aspects of culture are both visible and invisible, and culture is often compared to an iceberg because 90% of an iceberg is unseen below the waterline. Your organization should aspire to create a financial culture that meets, and ideally exceeds, generally accepted accounting principles, supports your mission and values, and provides a stable foundation for the nonprofit. You can explore the visible and invisible parts of your culture to better understand where the organization is now and what changes you want to make. A strong financial culture is vital to every nonprofit.

In an organization, culture includes the systems of knowledge shared by individuals engaged with the finances – the values, beliefs, attitudes, and roles individuals take within the nonprofit. Culture in general shows up in three ways: artifacts, behaviors, and underlying values. We break this down with the following examples related to nonprofit finances.

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Artifacts are the “stuff” of the organization. This includes things that someone could see by walking around your workplace or interacting with your financial processes. Some artifacts are less visible and may be known by specific workers. Artifacts can be tools, documents, procedures, and more. Together, your artifacts represent visible or accessible indicators of your nonprofit’s financial policies and procedures.

Artifacts may include:

  • Incorporation documents
  • Payroll systems
  • Whistleblower policy
  • Conflict of interest policy


  • Budgets
  • Financial reports – balance sheets and income statements
  • Donor tracking systems


Behaviors are what you can observe or witness when people interact with the nonprofit’s financial systems and implement protocols that are in place. Behaviors may include:

  • Conversations and casual comments
  • Participation and questions asked in meetings
  • How people interact across the organization, like staff and board or bookkeeper and staff
  • How individuals and teams respond when faced by a challenge or conflict

Underlying values

Underlying values are invisible elements that nevertheless shape a culture. A nonprofit can say strong financial controls are important, a priority, and integral to operations, and underlying convictions must exist so that everyone in the organization matches their words with appropriate actions.

The invisible elements may include:

  • Values related to what matters within an organization
  • Assumptions that common understandings are shared
  • Attitudes about recordkeeping
  • Attitudes about acceptable financial behaviors
  • Unspoken rules
  • Beliefs and habitats

Assess your culture

The first step in strengthening your nonprofit’s financial culture is to assess your current culture.


Use this worksheet to note how you would describe your culture across the three aspects (artifacts, behaviors, and underlying values). Then describe how you want your financial culture to be in the future. Remember, you can change culture.

Financial Culture Worksheet

This activity will help you assess the financial culture in your workplace.


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