Steps Nonprofits Can Take to Identify Cultural Fit when Recruiting

By Miecha Forbes

Miecha Forbes
Your recruiting team may have read a stack of resumes, assessed functional skills, and conducted countless interviews to find the perfect person for the job, but it may not have thought about how to effectively evaluate whether your candidate will fit into your organization.

Simply put, cultural fit is often not properly assessed in the nonprofit recruiting process.

According to the Accounting Principles blog, 89% of hiring failures are the result of a poor cultural fit, and the cost of replacing such an employee will cost your nonprofit 20% of the employee’s annual salary. Although these statistics point to the importance of cultural fit, it’s often not clear how to incorporate and evaluate it during the hiring process.

Here are some simple and effective steps your nonprofit can take to identify the right cultural fit when searching for the perfect candidate.

1) Define your nonprofit’s culture.

Before beginning the interview process, ensure that you have a good understanding of your nonprofit’s culture and values.

Organizations often set out to find a perfect fit for an open position, without giving much thought to what the culture of their nonprofit is, how to articulate it to candidates, and what qualities a candidate would need to exhibit in order to thrive. If there is a question as to what your culture is, or if you haven’t taken the time to formally write it down, take time to do so now. Be sure to explain why your culture is valuable and how it may be different from other nonprofits.

2) Begin assessing at the very beginning, and continue to evaluate throughout.

Many nonprofit organizations do not begin to assess cultural fit until well into the middle or end of the interview process, if at all.

Cultural fit should be evaluated throughout the entire interview process. Even in the initial phone interview, the question —What type of culture do you thrive in?—should be asked. Listen carefully to the response. Does the candidate’s response fit into what you have identified to be your nonprofit’s culture?

It often takes more than a couple of questions and interviews to determine if a candidate is going to fit into your organization’s culture. Some questions to ask candidates: What culture do you thrive in? How would you describe our culture based on what you’ve seen? Is this something that works for you? How do you envision yourself as a culture carrier? Or, what best practices would you bring with you from another organization with a healthy culture? Do you see yourself being able to implement these best practices in our environment?

3) Use the interview as an opportunity to immerse the candidate into the culture.

People have a tendency to forget that the interview can be used as an opportunity to provide the candidate with a tangible look into the feel of your organization.

Many job interviews are held in the same location, and typically only allow the candidate to meet up to three interviewers from the nonprofit. Think of ways your interview can provide the candidate with a bigger picture of what it would actually be like to work in your organization on a day-to-day basis. Give candidates a tour of your nonprofit, letting them see how other employees interact with one another and enabling them to determine if they see themselves fitting into your organization’s culture.

4) Build culture into your evaluation rubric.

It behooves all nonprofits to build culture into the interview process evaluation rubric.

Although cultural fit should be evaluated throughout the entire interview process, it’s a good idea to devote at least one portion of the interview rubric to culture fit. An effective time to do this is during the day-long final interview day that often occurs toward the end of the interview process. Be sure there is at least one interview devoted entirely to culture fit and values, and have a rating process on hand that evaluates the candidate’s responses to these questions.

5) Make cultural fit part of an assignment.

During many interview processes, job candidates are assigned an activity or thought exercise project that is evaluated by the interviewers or the hiring manager.

Many of these activities lean heavily on function, but do not access culture or values of the candidate. Instead, make culture fit, part the assignment. Ask candidates to put some thought into your nonprofit’s culture and reflect on what they have seen. Consider asking candidates to create a PowerPoint deck that explains the culture and values of the organization. This project ensures candidates have put some time into thinking about the culture of your organization, and allows them to produce a tangible product that shows their thinking around this topic.

Follow these steps, and your recruiting team will be more likely to find a candidate that has the right skills and cultural fit for your nonprofit, saving you a lot of time, hassle, and money.

Miecha Forbes is vice president for people, culture, and values at Koya Leadership Partners, a national executive search and consulting firm working with the nonprofit sector to achieve social and lasting change. Email her at

December 2014