Shaping Your Culture for Better Grantmaking

Tending to the culture of your organization is important for more productivity. This statement is true in all aspects of business, especially when it comes to improving grantmaking processes. Creating a culture in which trustees and staff are at their best performance isn’t easy, but it is attainable and the outcome allows organizations to ensure the nonprofits they hope to support are successful and strong.

“Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with a passion.” - Brian Chesky (@bchesky) CEO, Airbnb

Recognizing culture is not something that happens during earth-shattering moments in the life of an organization, rather it’s something that is continuously cultivated throughout operations. Foundation leaders have immense opportunities to shape the culture of their organization, and here we tell you how.

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Culture and Grantmaking

A productive internal culture that is aligned with organizational goals and values is essential in the support of nonprofit success. Simply put, to have more impact, more than just external strategies need evaluated. A study done at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business has revealed that only 15% of leaders believed their firm’s culture was where it needed to be.

To focus on the organizational culture, leaders, staff and others must focus on the ‘how.’ Meaning, for more effective grantmaking, we should be asking: How do we want to do our work? How can we do our work in the most effective manner? How will we choose to engage and communicate with each other? These questions show that every interaction, inside and outside a foundation, plays a role in the success of grantmaking.

Take a look at The Many Benefits of a Paperless Grant Management Process

Opportunities to Shape Culture

While it’s agreed that having some form of organizational culture is important, it must be a productive culture to reap grantmaking benefits. This is not an easy task and it requires foundations to take a look at the basic assumptions that could be in the way of accelerating impact. Culture is constantly evolving, and changes with people as most environments do (changes in leadership, staff, etcetera). Some opportunities to change and shape culture in a positive way are:

  • New leadership. A new leader has the potential to help drive new culture change. In the Brandon Hall Group’s State of Leadership Development Survey it was found that 77% of organizations indicated that their leadership strategy was only somewhat, or not at all, aligned with their business strategy. A change in upper management can go a long way in shaping a culture for grantmaking success

  • Grantee and community feedback. Feedback is a great asset when focusing on organizational culture. Hearing from staff, grantees and other stakeholders allows foundations to find out if they are all on the same page on how they view their culture. While honest feedback is often difficult to obtain, offering anonymous feedback is a great option to get more in-depth and open responses.

  • Anniversaries. While this may seem like a date on the calendar to some, it’s a great way to build and showcase culture to many others. It’s important to celebrate victories and successes and to take stock on what your organization has achieved. Foundations can also use this as an opportunity for a special grantmaking initiative - a win-win!

  • External events. Changing demographics and technology are both factors that impact organizational culture. For example, the notice of inequity across the country has led grantmakers to take a look at their own organizations, people and processes. Upon evaluating these events, many grantmakers are prompted to break down walls and adopt a more collaborative organizational culture.

While these are just a few opportunities in shaping organizational culture, it allows your organization to ask, “What kind of culture do we want?” and more opportunities will tend to follow.

Related reading: Beyond Agendas: How Grantmakers Collaborate to Do Good

The one overarching lesson: culture change starts with the simple act of naming culture as a priority. It’s something that has a real impact on grantees and organizations getting better results. The majority of us do not have the time nor the ability to make culture at 24/7 priority, however, the best place to start is by engaging in conversations about culture. Engaging staff, grantees and others in these conversations will help create a better understanding of where your culture is at, and where it should be.

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