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Creating a Change-Making Culture: A Field Guide

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Leadership expert Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” While many in philanthropy have heard this quote and quite a few may agree that a strong culture is critical for foundations to achieve their goals, data suggest that culture may indeed be a barrier to success for many foundations.

A 2017 survey of grantmaking organizations by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations found that 48 percent of grantmakers did not think their culture was where it needed to be to maximize effectiveness. That means almost half of these organizations don’t have the culture they need to be successful. What can you do about it? Invest your time and money in getting the culture you want.

Many foundations invest significant time and resources in developing strategies that chart a course for greater impact without including attention to culture in the process. As the data above indicate, attention to culture is critical for ensuring an organization is well positioned to meet its goals and has the right team in place.

We created a field guide to help you form the culture you want for your organization. In this field guide, we offer a method and process for creating this change-making culture, with questions to discuss with your staff and board and practical recommendations throughout.

Grounded in our partnership with Helios Education Foundation, this field guide shows how we have seen organizations achieve significant results—including the ones listed below—through an intentional culture change process.

Culture Results

  1. Clearly defined and agreed-upon values that resonate for all staff
  2. Behaviors that reinforce your values and guide how everyone will act with each other and with external partners
  3. Structure, policy, and process changes that support values and behaviors
  4. Action plans clarifying who will lead changes and by when they will occur
  5. Aligned senior leadership teams with clear and consistent management practices, agreed-upon decision-making protocols, and increased trust
  6. Distributed leadership across the organization to lead culture changes “from their seats,”including the potential to establish cross-functional, staff-led culture working groups that ensure changes move forward (see our forthcoming blog post for more on culture working groups)


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