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 July 1, 2021

Sometimes I struggle to market my experiences in nonprofits in the business world. Beyond hard and soft skills, are there any real lessons from nonprofits that can be applied to corporate environments?

Working in nonprofits, it’s important to hold a variety of events to attract a wide selection of your members and get new interest. The same is true for company culture. In a post-pandemic world the thing that employees really want is flexibility to work where and when it’s convenient for them. The resulting hybrid workplaces and differing schedules mean your culture-building activities will have to adapt. Taking a page from nonprofits and beginning to offer different types of events on a more frequent basis is a great way to reach a wide cross-section of your employees.

If you want to get more people socializing and participating in events, you have to make sure people can find an opportunity to be involved that suits them. Lackluster attendance in one activity, say a company virtual happy hour, doesn’t mean people aren’t interested in socializing. Maybe your team has grown too much for easy conversation or you have lots of non-drinkers who aren’t keen to make small talk about microbrews. Get these people interested again by offering them more activities to choose from.

I once worked in an office that was great at this. Within two weeks of starting there I found myself in the middle of the annual Talk Like a Pirate Day celebrations. Admittedly, outside of an excuse to have a good rum cocktail this was not something for me. But there were so many more chances to socialize with coworkers — a bustling lunch room, weekly happy hours, group puzzles — that it was almost impossible not to find something that worked for me. I was a regular on the company softball team and could hold my own in the field, but I’m afraid I was a disappointment the time I was asked to fill in for someone on the soccer team.

This might seem daunting if it falls on one person to organize everything, but it’s possible (and even encouraged) to have different people in charge of different activities. In fact, doing so allows more people to grow within the company and keeps things from getting stale. It’s entirely up to you if you want to have a set group organize everything (I hesitate to say “culture committee,” since that gets a bad rap these days) or be more spontaneous and let people step up to do what interests them. It’s more about facilitating events than attending every one and acting like a cruise social director.

You can take a look at Part Two of this post if you want some specific ideas. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but it should help give you a springboard for ideas. 

Obviously your friendly group trivia league is a great option, but not everything you need. I imagine this isn’t what a marketing expert would want me to say, but I’ve always thought of it as, shall we say, part of a balanced breakfast, rather than the one thing that will fix all your problems. But you should definitely try it.