Workplace culture is a funny thing. It’s not tangible, which makes it virtually impossible to define all of the elements that compose it. For all its complexities, though, members of your staff are aware when something is amiss, namely because they are the ones affected. However, not all your staff will be affected equally. Gender identification, race, sexual orientation and religion all have an impact on how one experiences the world. Acknowledging this and making sure your workplace is a welcoming place for all is essential in making sure your nonprofit fulfills its mission.


The true key to capacity building for nonprofit organizations is workplace culture.  Nonprofit leaders struggle when it comes to improving culture and making it stronger, though, because core values and engagement surveys fail to move the needle. What’s missing is a deeper understanding of the true dynamics that make your culture tick. Once you have that, you can start moving the needle on the things (particular to your organization) that might be holding you back.

Maddie GrantCulture Consultant at Human Workplaces and Editor at SocialFish


So how do you make your organization woke? Well first, start reading.


Staff Diversity

Well first things first, you cannot be a welcoming office if you are not culturally diverse. The United States is unique in its diverse citizenry and you want your office to reflect that. When we think diversity we generally think in terms of black and white, and, while this is fundamental, you also want to expand your definition of what diversity entails. Considering gender, race, religion, disability and nationality are all important aspects of diversity and including those of many different backgrounds on your staff will bring unique perspectives. In fact, research done by the McKinsey Global Institute showed that diverse offices perform better than homogeneous ones in terms of financial gain. How does your office go about diversifying its staff? It’s not always easy and takes deliberate strategies to accomplish.

First, you need to make sure that all higher management is aware of your organization’s emphasis on diversity and ensure that they are interviewing a wide set of individuals for any open position. Second, extending your recruiting area will broaden your pool of applicants thus allowing for more variation. Finally, allowing for some flexibility in your hours for potential employees will allow individuals like single mothers or those commuting from farther away to work productively for your organization.

Sensitivity and Cultural Trainings

If your organization doesn’t yet have cultural diversity and sensitivity trainings, it’s time to get on board. The first thing you must acknowledge about this training is that it will absolutely not “fix” your workplace. Biases are ingrained in us and they are not going to go away because of a few hours of training. That being said, setting the standards for workplace interaction with a diverse staff is essential for creating a welcoming office environment for all.

Human Resources

There are going to be times when your sensitivity trainings fail and this is when having predefined policies are essential. What does a woman do when there are cases of sexual harassment? What about a person of color who is being unfairly treated by their boss? Someone who identifies as gender binary whose coworker refuses to use their chosen pronoun? Your human resources department should be ready to handle any situation with pre-set policies and practices both for how an employee may register a complaint and what appropriate action follows.

Check Your Pronouns

Make it policy that the pronouns of all new staff are discussed in onboarding and use that pronoun right away in introductions whether by email or in person. If you make a mistake that’s okay. Acknowledge it, apologize and move on. We are all only human and are bound to make mistakes every now and then.

Make sure that you have a single stall gender-neutral bathroom for those who are not comfortable using the gender binary bathrooms. You want everyone at your office space to feel safe and happy when using the bathroom so make it easy for them!

Salary Disparities

In 2015, Salesforce did a global audit of their employee salaries and found that there were unaccounted for disparities. Instead of covering up the problem, the company instead spent money (to the count of $3 million) to even the playing field. Now your nonprofit is probably not a global company like Salesforce but pay discrepancies exist across all sectors for a variety of reasons. Doing an audit of your employee salaries and making sure everyone is being compensated fairly is essential for building trust amongst your staff. We know that money is tight in the nonprofit world but steps like these will increase your employee retention and save you money in the long run.

Assignment Delegation

Many times without consciously being aware, staff are assigned roles outside of their job description due to their gender, race or other biased-based factors. For example, at many offices female staff are expected to plan staff parties or take notes during meetings. To make sure your organization is fairly dispersing said assignments, make it random so that all staff are involved!

Celebrate Diversity

Acknowledge and highlight all of the incredible differences that make your nonprofit what it is. Celebrate important holidays of staff members and have lunch time potlucks where everyone brings their favorite dish. Finding ways to celebrate the different experiences that your staff members have and showing how they create a dynamic and unique office will help your team connect and ultimately work together better.

Time to Take action

Culture really is complicated but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to create the most welcoming office spaces possible. Before the age of #blacklivesmatter and #metoo, many offices were complacent. But the rise of accountability holding measures has led to real change and just making inspiring posters no longer cuts it. In the nonprofit world, our missions are to do good. So let’s make sure that we practice what we preach and allow our offices to serve as examples for the rest of the world.

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