Something to Be Thankful For: A Great Team

Building a strong company culture is tough — there is no doubt about that. Yet it’s essential to any successful operation. Your organization is only as good as your people, and that applies to both for and not-for profits.

Updated: 11/21/17

I rarely get emotional. Choked up even less frequently. But this Thanksgiving was a bit different.

Thanksgiving day marked the two month anniversary of my mom’s stroke. Fortunately, she has been recovering quite well. Over the past 60 days I have spent a lot of time outside of our company’s office — working from home, spending time at the hospital and rehab centers, etc, etc.

As I sat down for my Thanksgiving meal I became overwhelmed in recent memories from my coworkers and colleagues. I realized how fortunate I am to work with such a great group of people.

Friday before Thanksgiving our team received a package from our friends at NeonCRM. Cookies and holiday cards are great things to be thankful for.

The day before Thanksgiving one of our colleagues, Jen, brought in homemade hazelnut bites.

And the day before Thanksgiving, everyone received an email from our office manager, Shari telling us to leave early and spend time with our families.


No, it wasn’t the sweet treats or the email that made me emotional.

The cookies showed how much our team cared about each other, and the present from Neon made it clear that our partners thought highly of us as well.

As I sat down with my turkey and cranberry sauce it struck me just how special and amazing the group of people I work with really is. I immediately felt so lucky to have them by my side.

Building a strong company culture is tough — there is no doubt about that. Yet it’s essential to any successful operation. Your organization is only as strong as your people, and that applies to both for and not-for profits.

So today, as we approach #GivingTuesday and fall into the full swing of the holiday season I wanted to take a moment to share the things our company has done right to build a strong culture. My hope is that maybe your organization can take these ideas and run with them too.

3 ways we’ve built a strong culture

Aligning with the mission

At its crux, the mission of any organization is fundamentally the reason it exists. At MarketSmart our company mantra is, “to help nonprofits raise more money at less cost.”

Our office is decorated with reminders that reinforce this message. Our chalkboards (yes we have chalkboards; we actually have an entire chalkboard wall, want to come work with us?), our white boards, and our picture frames are filled with the words “more money, less costs.” And no, that isn’t a reminder for our “sales” team — it’s a reminder as to why we are all sitting at our desks.


This message is reinforced during weekly meetings. Monday’s weekly roundup is frequently used to remind everyone why we walked in the door that morning.

Our team, both collectively and individually endorses and lives our company mission statement. In our office it is less of a statement, and more of a way of doing business. When a difficult decision needs to be made you don’t have to listen very closely to hear someone asking, “Does this help our clients raise more money while lowering their costs?”

This “buy-in” to the mission has brought our team closer together and more unified in our work.

Setting personal goals

Everyone at our company participates in personal goal setting. From our interns to our CEO, we all take part in this ritual.

Goal-setting is a great way to maintain focus and concentrate energy on a particular task. Each of our personal goals typically builds into a team goal. And our team goals lend themselves to company goals. The company goals align with the company mission… You get the picture.

By starting at the foundation (individuals) and working up to the top (the company) you end up with a group of people who are focused and energized towards similar objectives. At MarketSmart we are transparent with one another, we share our personal goals with our colleagues and we support each other in their ambitions.

Ultimately, those personal goals build into team goals. Since each of us has a different set of skills and talents, we begin to recognize which people we need on our “team” to successfully accomplish a greater objective. And finally, those team goals serve as the foundation for the company goals. We identify how each of the team goals bolster our company’s needs and align with our mission and values. Then, we set out to achieve these goals.

Goal-setting has been a principal tool used to energize, focus and align every member of our staff. Plus, it’s great to see when people you care about accomplish things. For instance, one of my co-workers ran a 5k and beat her record time. That wasn’t a team or company goal, but we were proud of her success in achieving one of her personal goals. That’s a great culture.

Hiring great people

Our company has an awesome hiring process. Not only is it awesome for us, it is also great for prospective employees.

Hiring and retaining great people is not easy. Everyone knows that hiring presents a unique set of challenges and retaining a great hire is arguably even more difficult.

Yet at its core, an organization, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, is truly the sum of its parts. The individuals that make up your company or nonprofit are the reason you’re still in existence. To put it bluntly, you want great people to run your organization.


When someone applies for a position at MarketSmart, we make a conscious effort to get to know them. That’s why we have our “career survey.” We ask poignant and thought-provoking questions of individuals who might want to join our team.

We have an entire process for interviewing and learning more about applicants as well, and we even have a process for applicants to interview us. It’s a two way street — we learn about you, you learn about us.

By being honest, transparent and thorough in our hiring process we have been able to bring people in who exhibit quality character and truly care about furthering our mission and vision.

What does this have to do with fundraising?

If you’ve made it this far you may be wondering to yourself, “Why did I just read about some company’s strong culture and team dynamic on a fundraising blog?” That’s a fair question.

If you look past the donors (I can’t believe I just said that), and look beyond the data, it doesn’t take long to realize that the most important part of your organization is your team.

There are no donors without a strong, like-minded, mission driven group of people behind the scenes. There are no analytics and reporting without a group of motivated, focused and energized folks putting in the hours of work behind the scenes to make it run smoothly. At its core, your organization is what it is because of the individuals within it.

Hopefully the ideas presented here can be applied to your shop. Build a strong culture, set goals that center around your organization’s mission, and most importantly, hire great people.

Nonprofit organizations frequently get slack for poor pay and lack of upward mobility. Although potentially true, that means in this climate you simply need to find more mission-driven individuals. Of course that isn’t easy. It isn’t supposed to be. But by building a great team you’ll notice implications for greater success in the future . Expenses will go down, morale will go up. And ultimately you’ll be succeeding in your mission.

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