Support network

How charitable organisations can build a positive work culture


Image: Istock

Sarah Loader

Consultant, Campbell Tickell

It is impossible to have missed what seems like a deluge of reports of poor workplace culture, bullying and racism in charities. In a sector that has altruism at its heart, this can seem a depressing and disheartening picture. Aren’t we better than that?

Those working in some very high-profile organisations have experienced some very toxic attitudes and extremely poor practice. While this is a much wider problem that can arise in any workplace in any sector, charities are generally expected to hold themselves to higher standards.

What is perhaps slightly more positive is that many of these charities are beginning to take their culture more seriously and are starting to dig deeper into why things might have gone wrong and what can be done about it. So what is the current picture?

Importance of a positive culture

The culture of an organisation happens whether or not you actively steer it. However, supporting the growth of a culture that promotes healthy behaviours throughout, has a beneficial impact on all aspects of the organisation’s operations. Positive impacts include having respectful and supportive attitudes, better and more open decision-making, happier staff and everyone working towards the same goal.

Wider public expectations are that organisations – and charities in particular – should live their values. The recently refreshed Charity Governance Code has strengthened its focus on integrity and diversity, demonstrating the fundamental importance for charities to get these right. Donors who trust a charity to behave well and make the right decisions in the right way are much more likely to offer support.

Five steps to build a better culture

So, what can we all do to ensure that we build a better culture?


Listen – The first step is to actually listen to and hear the experiences of people working in the organisation. And not just paid staff, but volunteers and those the charity supports. What is their view of the current culture? How do they feel about how they are treated? What might make their work life, or relationship with the charity better? Do people feel safe to call out poor behaviours and practice and honestly speak their mind?


Be open – Clearly acknowledge where things can be better and commit to practical change.


Build shared values together – People who play an active part in setting values and changing the culture will feel more invested in that change.


Lead from the top – The board needs to ensure that the agreed values of the organisation are the foundation of how they, as a board, operate. Chairs have a role in checking that board behaviours are appropriate at all times.


Time, resource and ongoing commitment – Improving a culture is not a quick fix and it can’t be a one-off exercise. Make sure that anyone joining the organisation is made aware of and signs up to the values. Make sure that there is regular feedback at the highest level on complaints and compliments. Regularly encourage people to call out poor behaviour if it occurs and ensure that they know how to do this.

Asking questions about the culture and getting feedback on how people feel will be uncomfortable at times and making changes won’t be easy, but the benefits for charities and the individuals who work in and with them, will be immense.

Share this page


The CT Culture Scan and the seven pillars of positive culture


Getting your culture right