Culture is talked about a lot in the nonprofit sector. In an organization, culture includes the systems of knowledge shared by a group – the values, beliefs, attitudes, and roles individuals take within the group. A nonprofit as a whole can have a culture, as can its board, staff, or people served. Your organization should aspire to create a culture that supports your mission and values.
A strong culture is vital to every nonprofit organization. An organization can have the best plan, training, or checklist in place, and it takes leadership focused on culture to ensure tools are implemented in ways that benefit people inside and outside the nonprofit.
In general, culture shows up in three ways: artifacts, behaviors, and underlying values. 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. Explore the visible and invisible parts of your nonprofit’s culture to better understand where you are now and what changes you would like to make. The following examples related to safety and health break this down further.
Artifacts are the “stuff” of the organization. This includes the things that someone could see by walking around your workspace. Some artifacts are less visible and may be known by specific staff. Artifacts can be tools, documents, procedures, and more. Together, your artifacts represent visible or accessible indicators of your nonprofit’s policies and protocols related to safety and health.
What are your organization’s artifacts?
- Accident Prevention Program
- Safety meeting agenda
- Training guides
- Dress codes
- General appearance and cleanliness of machines or tools
- Employee handbook*
- Safety bulletin board(s)
- Documents related to safety and health
- Personal protective equipment
- General appearance of the environment
- Onboarding plans
- Strategic plan
- Safety-related policies
- Tools in use
- Training plan
Behaviors are what you can observe or witness when people interact within an organization. Behaviors include:
- Conversations and casual comments about safety
- How people wear personal protective equipment
- How data is documented and tracked
- Participation in safety-related meetings
- How people interact across the organization, like leadership/staff, staff/board, and staff/people served
- How individuals and team members respond when someone is injured or involved in an accident
Artifacts and behaviors would be discernible to a safety inspector visiting your workplace or a consultant conducting a risk assessment.
Underlying values are invisible elements that nevertheless shape a culture. A nonprofit can say safety and health is important, valued, and integral to mission achievement, and underlying convictions must exist so everyone in the organization matches their words with appropriate actions. The invisible elements may include:
- Values related to what matters within an organization
- Value placed on safety within staffing and organizational structure
- Assumptions that someone is taking care of safety
- Assumptions that common understandings are shared
- Attitudes about data and recordkeeping
- Attitudes about what is acceptable behavior
- Attitudes about the people you organization serves
- Unspoken rules
- Unspoken perceptions about risk
- Beliefs and habits
One way to understand the underlying values of a group of people is to interview individuals from the different layers of the organization: board, leadership team members, staff, volunteers, and people served.