Citizen Advocates prioritizes culture to achieve strong organizational alignment

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Lessons Learned from a Nonprofit on Cultivating Culture

Culture is the WD-40 in between our gears; it helps us move the agency forward at a better pace with less friction. — James Button, CEO, Citizen Advocates

Culture Partners, a leading culture management consulting firm, is highlighting its unique partnership with Citizen Advocates, a health and human services organization specializing in the delivery of high-quality developmental disability, mental health and addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery services.

This partnership empowers Citizen Advocates to leverage culture so it can gain a competitive advantage to differentiate itself as an employer of choice. Citizen Advocates is a nonprofit based in northern New York, serving many communities from Lake Champlain in the east to Lake Ontario in the west.

When building a strong culture, many nonprofit organizations may not be able to offer the same “perks” as for-profit organizations tend to implement in an effort to improve culture, such as outfitting their offices with ping-pong tables or paying large performance bonuses. That’s why it’s important for leaders of nonprofits (and all organizations) to turn their attentions elsewhere when creating a culture that drives results. James Button, CEO of Citizen Advocates, understands the importance of making a culture shift.

“I look at Citizen Advocates or any company as a large machine, with lots of cogs and inner workings that have to sync and vibe well,” says Button. “Culture is the WD-40 in between our gears; it helps us move the agency forward at a better pace with less friction.”

To ensure employees understood the culture shift taking place, Citizens Advocates scheduled workshops focused on aligning the whole organization on the results needed, as well as the Cultural Beliefs. The workshops were a huge success with 97% of the organization’s workforce in attendance.

By defining Cultural Beliefs, Citizen Advocates preserves resources. “With the introduction of cultural beliefs, we didn’t need a policy for everything,” Button says. “Articulating our cultural beliefs allowed us to function as one team, thriving together.”

While culture provides value for day-to-day operations, it serves an even greater good when external factors result in an unprecedented challenge. Citizen Advocates, like other organizations nationwide, is navigating an ongoing pandemic, a workforce shortage, political uncertainty, and economic downturn.

The difference between Citizen Advocates and its peers has been culture. Their company culture has not only helped it endure these circumstances, it has also aligned the workforce and made it stronger as a team.

“Our cultural beliefs guide our actions and decisions while establishing expectations for how we interact and work together at Citizen Advocates,” said Amanda Tagliarino, Director of Professional Development for Citizen Advocates. “While launching a culture initiative during the outbreak of a pandemic was under less-than-ideal circumstances, we forged ahead as an organization committed to making it work and ultimately achieved success.”

In fact, much of what Citizen Advocates accomplished through its culture work has been the antidote to the problems created by the pandemic.

  • New employees are citing culture as one of the reasons they accepted a job at Citizen Advocates.
  • Many key stakeholders are seeking greater collaboration with Citizen Advocates because of its strengthened culture.
  • The increase in collaboration is reinforcing the company culture and attracting talent from nontraditional sources, with a motivation to work at an organization known for its positive workplace culture.

“We are proud to be Citizens Advocates and their employees’ partner on their Culture Journey™,” said Joe Terry, CEO of Culture Partners. “Citizen Advocates has established itself as the employer of choice by activating their culture to align its employees around a common purpose of 'Making Lives Better' and a clear set of cultural beliefs to produce results that are best-in-class care and services for their communities.”

To learn more about how Culture Partners helped Citizen Advocates define and align their culture, read the case study.

About Culture Partners
For 30 years and counting, we have empowered thousands of organizations globally to harness the power of culture. Our human industrial-organizational psychological methods activate organizations to achieve results, year after year, by connecting experiences, beliefs, and actions. Our culture management frameworks inspire businesses in every sector to realize their full potential by owning their growth. Find Culture Partners online at

About Citizen Advocates
At Citizen Advocates, our mission is Making Lives Better. The individuals, families, and communities we serve receive a full range of health and lifestyle care through innovative, high-quality services and programs. In addition to providing a wide range of quality clinical services, Citizen Advocates offers supports that promote individual health through stable housing, job training and transportation. This is achieved through a person-centered approach that supports and celebrates each individual’s choices. We are here to make a positive difference in the life of any individual needing help along the unique road to health, independence and fulfillment.

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Elaine Bleakney
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