More than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations operate in the United States. Our charge is to make a difference in our communities…every day in everyday lives. And our collective impact is immeasurable.

There’s an adage in the world of work – one widely accepted in blind faith: “Customers come first.” Nowhere is this truer than in the Not-for-profit (NFP) realm….we exist solely for the people we serve. A war is being waged on this adage, though. Maybe it amounts to nothing more than a chicken or egg debate, but we think there’s something here worth paying attention to.

No, customers don’t come first. Employees do.

If we are all about our mission, then we must be mission-ready; and there’s really only one way to do that. We have to have the right employees – the best people – behind that mission. No employees, no mission. Wrong employees, damaged brand, missed opportunities, suboptimal performance, alienated community. If our employees are fully engaged in our mission, that mission is met…exceeded, even. So why wouldn’t we start there?

The Wise Giving Alliance (give.org) is devoted to helping contributors make informed decisions and advocating high standards of conduct in organizations that seek contributions from the public. Increasingly we’re finding that the strength of an organization’s workplace culture has a lot to do with how effective that organization is at everything from raising money to serving their community. Much of that comes from what a strong culture does to the workforce that’s living it. Strong cultures drive engagement, intent to stay, willingness to put forth discretionary effort, and a relentless commitment to the mission.

Simply put, strong cultures drive success.

Maybe this is intuitive for you. We wanted to prove it, though. We used our proprietary workplace culture measurement tool, WorkXO®, that captures feedback from active employees to identify the behaviors, beliefs, values, and actions they experience (or don’t) while at work. The tool also analyzes how those experiences impact desirable workplace outcomes like engagement and employee net promoter score (eNPS). The latter is the result of the answer to one important question: “How likely are you to recommend someone you respect this organization for employment?”

We randomly selected 8 charitable organizations that carry the Wise Giving Alliance Seal (“Accredited Sample”). In order to get that seal, organizations must adhere to 20 standards for effective and responsible operations Those organizations invited all of their employees to take the WorkXO culture survey and we received 217 individual employee responses as a result (n=217). This level of response is deemed statistically significant with 95% confidence and less than a 5% margin of error. At the same time, QuestionPro compiled a benchmark from 27 Non-Profit Organizations that have taken the WorkXO Culture Survey in the last 12 months (“Benchmark”). Neither of those 27 organizations carries the Wise Giving Alliance Seal. Those organizations comprised 1,756 individual employee responses (n=1,756). That response level is also deemed statistically significant.

This is what we learned

  • Generally, NFP organizations in the Accredited Sample are more agile, collaborative, inclusive, innovative, and transparent when compared to organizations in the NFP Benchmark.
  • The behaviors, actions, values, and beliefs that are experienced most in the cultures of the Accredited Sample are:
    • People around me are willing to help me if I ask them for it. (91%)
    • My work contributes value to something or someone who matters. (90%)
    • I am inspired by what my colleagues and coworkers do around here. (85%)
    • We care about making our community a better place to live. (88%)
    • I get to work with different people with different backgrounds, experiences, opinions, and perspectives. (84%)
  • When compared to the benchmark, these behaviors, actions, values, and beliefs were experienced far more by the Accredited Sample.
    • Everyone here is clear on what drives our success as an organization (34% more than the Benchmark)
    • We remove ‘silos’ and ‘boundaries’ at work; we aren’t territorial (33% more than the Benchmark)
    • People know what other departments need from them and share the right information at the right time (33% more than the Benchmark)
    • If a process, procedure, approach is not working, we can correct it with ease (31% more than the Benchmark)
    • We push past the “we’ve always done it that way” objection (27% more in the Benchmark).
  • 52% of employees in the Accredited Sample are ‘Promoters’ (when asked, on a scale of 1-10, how likely they are to recommend someone they respect to this organization for employment, they answered with a ‘9’ or ‘10’); Only 42% of employees in the Benchmark are Promoters.
  • On the other hand, 27% of the employees in the Benchmark are ‘Detractors’ (when asked the eNPS question, they answered with a 6 or below). These employees are potentially damaging the brand externally, they are more disconnected from the business and its mission. Only 20% of employees in the Accredited Sample are ‘Detractors.’
  • The difference between the percentage of Promoters and Detractors is a company’s eNPS. The eNPS for the Accredited Sample (37) is 147% higher than that for the Benchmark (15). 147%! This correlates strongly to higher engagement, connection, affiliation, and a more meaningful employee experience.
  • QuestionPro has gathered over 700k+ data points on workplace culture and how it impacts eNPS. The highest eNPS score they’ve ever seen is 100, and that came from an organization in the Accredited Sample. The lowest eNPS score they’ve ever seen is -62, and that came from the NFP Benchmark.

This is our conclusion

Charitable organizations that have already proven to be best-in-class amongst a large community of giving organizations have strong foundational workplace cultures with employees that are more connected with and impactful to their mission. Chicken or Egg? Who cares?!?! Effective giving organizations are as committed to creating meaningful experiences for its employees as they are to serving their customers are more successful. What’s to argue about that?

QuestionPro helps NFPs evaluate their culture, look at aspects that contribute to or hinder their success and bring about positive changes for building the right workplace culture. As you can see we have the numbers to show for it. Why don’t you sign up for a free Workforce account, see for yourself how the tool can help you manage your organization’s culture?