5 Organizational Culture Tips that Guided Me Through My VISTA Year of Service – Blog post by Kristen Knight

Throughout my AmeriCorps VISTA year of service, I had the opportunity and honor of engaging with talented leaders from both the nonprofit and for-profit worlds by participating in several Shine the Light nonprofit forums. This allowed me to gain insight on the successes and struggles that many organizations face on a daily basis. The topic of organizational culture often came up as a point of contention that continuously needed to be improved upon, for it affects the very core of the organization’s vision, employee productivity, systems, and more.

I found it particularly fascinating and important to understand organizational culture, for in a VISTA position, an individual is attempting to make great strides and impact in a short amount of time, all while adjusting to the organization’s norms and expectations. The organization a VISTA is placed at must also quickly adapt to this temporary position and incorporate the VISTA’s work in a sustainable manner.

How an organization’s culture comes to fruition is a complex integration of internal and external factors throughout its development. Thus, finding a surefire source of its well-being can prove to be a difficult manner. However, organizational culture is fluid in nature, and leaves room for continued improvement with the right attitudes, or downgrades if the proper steps are not taken.

In order to contribute to my organization’s culture during my VISTA year, I carried with me the following tips shared:


  1. Be mindful of how you show up every day. The attitude you walk in the door with permeates with those around you and lingers long after you are gone. Are you a challenger? A problem solver? A victim? Once you get in the habit of being cautious of your own behaviors, you can then identify why people may react to your actions and ideas in a certain way.
  2. Inaction affects culture just as much as action. What you don’t say or do can often have more influence on the organization’s culture than a million positive gestures. By ignoring or not addressing conflicts in a timely manner, for instance, you can give the impression that you don’t care or that these issues are not a priority in your organization. This can create unknown feelings of hostility and angst. Be present, and make organizational culture a priority.
  3. Be realistic about where your organization is at.  Creating an organizational culture that invites innovation and openness to the table have been a common dilemma and discussion amongst professionals in the nonprofit sector. A huge part of the VISTA program is the ability to build capacity for the organization you serve. This often involves updating or creating new systems, procedures, or programs. Is the organization ready for new ideas? If not, why? Taking the small steps to get to that point will always lead you forward.
  4. Stay authentic and be realistic about where you are at personally. How to stay authentic in your own personal values and goals, while still being a team player can often be a challenge. Recognizing your own vulnerability and vices in different stages in your life and career allows you to appropriately commit to projects where you will shine. Once you find these bright stops, you can then turn up those actions and let your authentic self thrive through the organization.
  5. Be intentional. Culture + Strategy is the breakfast of champions. When you start each day with the intention to not only make organizational culture a top priority, but also plan for a specific action to move forward, you cultivate a unique recipe that slowly integrates all the right ingredients.

Kristen Knight grew up in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. She earned a B.S. in Psychology at the University Central Florida. After finishing her Bachelor’s degree, she moved to Greenville and has resided here for two years. Kristen has served AmeriCorps VISTA this year with Rebuild Upstate this year and is interested in furthering her career in City & Regional Planning. Kristen is a newlywed a proud owner of a Border Collie, and is expecting her first child in February. She enjoys gardening and any other outdoor activities!


Posted August 30, 2016 in: Blog by Debbie Nelson

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