Importance of Culture in Volunteer Organizations

Importance of Culture in Volunteer Organizations

When it comes to attracting volunteers, many nonprofits laser-focus on their volunteer recruitment and retention programs themselves, fine-tuning these operations until they run like clockwork.

Yet what if the secret to stronger volunteerism was something larger? Zoom out the camera, and your broader organizational culture could have that make-or-break effect on creating unparalleled volunteer experiences for each person who walks through your doors.

Why Is Organizational Culture So Important?

Organizational culture for nonprofits comes down to the defining beliefs, goals, attitudes, and activities practiced by your organization, every day of operations.

In other words, organizational culture is what makes your nonprofit tick. It sums up the essence of who you are and what you’re about and should be unique only to you, like a fingerprint.

Why is it so critical for organizations to “walk the walk,” authentically representing their core beliefs? It turns out, a well-defined organizational culture begets many benefits:

  • It sets you apart: Many organizations fall into the trap of letting their not-for-profit status define their entire culture. They assume that charitable status is enough to receive positive traction, attention, and acclaim in their communities. Yet with over 1.5 million registered nonprofits in the United States, that 501(c)(3) status only gets you so far.
  • It draws volunteers and employees to you: Nonprofits with a principled personality and sparkling reputation have a far easier time advertising, attracting, and managing volunteers. That’s because people already understand who you are and the quality work you do. Already, they show up at your doors with buy-in.
  • It improves fundraising: Similar to volunteer and employee engagement, a solid organizational culture strengthens donation appeals. With a sharpened understanding of why you do the work you do, your nonprofit also positions itself for bolstered grant applications and similar fundraising tactics.
  • It inspires campaigns and programming: A strong organizational culture is akin to your brand reputation. When you maintain a strong understanding of your brand, you can shape the most relevant and attractive programming, sponsorships, and community engagement activities year-round — all without straying from your core values.

What Are the Components of Organizational Culture?

Organizational culture will be unique to every nonprofit. However, those with the most successful culture felt and understood by its volunteers tend to display the following principles.

1. Shared Motivations, Beliefs, and End Goals

A shared purpose is at the heart of organizational culture. It guides your nonprofit’s annual volunteer programs, shapes fundraising efforts, influences community partnerships, and inspires your public relations.

Aim to build an environment where volunteers pick up what drives the work you do instantly. Shout your core values, talk about your objectives for the year, and share operations updates. Most of all, create unifying language and mirror the behaviors you want to be shared amongst volunteers and employees.

2. “We,” Not “I”

Thriving organizational culture — and volunteer culture — is team-oriented, always. Organizations with a team focus seek for daily operations to be fundamentally inclusive, cooperative, trusting, and open. What’s more, nonprofits pay attention to building organizational structures that are as horizontal as possible, ensuring organic support and collaboration.

3. An Upbeat Environment

We all know those workplaces that take themselves too seriously. While nonprofits do serve serious missions, the everyday mood in the office certainly doesn’t have to be.

Take time to let your hair down with employees and volunteers alike. Plan parties, gamify menial tasks, surprise colleagues, crack jokes, and more to cultivate a fun, upbeat environment people actually want to work in. You can also maintain an open-door policy to foster support for your volunteers, ensuring you’re available whenever they need it.

Tips to Improve Your Volunteer Culture

If you’re wondering how to improve your organizational culture, check out these actionable engagement tips — many of which you can put into practice today.

The biggest tip to improving your volunteer culture at your nonprofit? Treat those volunteers as what they are - critical and valuable players in the very existence of your organization.

1. Treat Volunteers As Trusted Staff

The biggest tip to improving your volunteer culture at your nonprofit? Treat those volunteers as what they are — critical and valuable players in the very existence of your organization.

Volunteers can no longer be viewed as ancillary to your operations, or as people who fill ad-hoc gaps during events or programming. Treating volunteers as an afterthought will result in volunteers viewing your nonprofit as an afterthought.

Instead, set up key employee structures and interactions with your volunteers themselves, including creating:

  • Progression pipelines with increased responsibilities
  • Volunteer meetings mirroring staff ones
  • Lunch breaks
  • Annual reviews and goal-setting sessions

2. Ask Volunteers What’s Meaningful

Want to know how you can improve a volunteer’s experience? Ask them! This sensible step seems so obvious, it’s often missed by large swaths of volunteer managers and nonprofit administrators.

Asking volunteers what kind of work is meaningful to them brings a few major benefits. First, it nurtures a culture of inclusion. Volunteers feel instantly valued beyond a rote worker bee because their opinions are appreciated and sought after. Second, it helps you identify volunteer skills you may not be using. Last but not least, it can actually result in higher volunteer retention and volunteer hours — music to any manager’s ears.

3. Get Serious About Subcultures

Subcultures are a reality for all organizations, informing office politics, relationships, and workflows. While they can sometimes be difficult and even uncomfortable to reconcile, you must do so to create a positive culture for your volunteers and employees.

Identify the inner workings of your organization, seeing what aligns with your mission and values and what hinders them. Examples of subtle and explicit dynamics might include:

  • Current organizational structure: Who reports to whom?
  • Typical workflows: How do tasks get done?
  • Access to technology: Who can use what hardware and software?
  • Inter-office conflicts and camaraderie: Who adds or detracts from a positive work environment?
  • Overall mission and value buy-in: Are we walking the walk while we talk the talk?

4. Look at Your Language

Take a thorough look through any of the following volunteer-facing content:

  • Training curricula
  • Volunteer applications
  • Volunteer distributed brochures
  • Volunteer-related webpages
  • Volunteer manuals
  • Facebook, Twitter, and other social media posts geared toward volunteer relations

Note the language deployed across these materials. Specifically, look for words or phrases that express rigidity, pre-existing rules, and vertical hierarchies new volunteers must fit into — versus the other way around. Examples of this negative, prescriptive language abound, from phrases like “mandatory training” and “volunteer requirements” to “chain of command” and “prohibited conduct.” Stringent language is a solid indicator something may be amiss with your perceived volunteer culture and your practiced volunteer culture. Aim to tweak your language and your culture accordingly.

5. Be Patient

It can take years to cultivate the culture of volunteer engagement you’re aiming for. As with any strategic goal, consider ways you can micro-track progress through key performance indicators (KPIs) defined toward volunteer activities.

Remember, you’re introducing a new co-created model of volunteer experiences. Volunteers are being brought into the fold to engage in decision-making that shapes the daily work they do and the operations of the nonprofit. Those changes take time to finalize — and to see measurable results.

Volgistics has helped over 5,000 organizations better manage more than 6 million volunteers - and counting.

Reimagine Your Nonprofit’s Positive Volunteer Culture

Volgistics has helped over 5,000 organizations better manage more than 6 million volunteers — and counting. What could you do with your volunteer culture if unencumbered by routine administrative tasks and repetitive volunteer management assignments? Learn what with a free 30-day trial of Volgistics software today.

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