How to Write a Compelling ‘State of the Organization’ Update

by Josh Jacobson

On Friday, May 1, Next Stage hosted an accomplished panel of social good leaders for The New Normal, the firm’s digital nonprofit roundtable that takes place each Friday at noon. The topic was Budget Shortfall and Bold Leadership, and the conversation was outstanding. I encourage you to check it out.

Panelist Chris Jackson from Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont recently published an excellent first-person statement on LinkedIn entitled Leadership in the Era of Coronavirus. In it, he not only lays out a strong, matter-of-fact update on the impact of COVID-19 on the local Goodwill affiliate, but also offers his views on how to lead a large nonprofit during a time of great change.

As he noted during The New Normal, he never thought he would need to temporarily close all of the organization’s 26 retail stores or furlough more than 750 employees. These were significant decisions that needed to be made quickly and courageously. By outlining how these decisions were made and offering insider insights, Chris took control of his agency’s narrative and set a positive, hopeful vision for the future.

Many nonprofits have posted some sort of COVID-19 statement on their websites – typically a short, formal statement using organizational voice. Next Stage believes the leaders of area nonprofits should follow this high-quality example and consider drafting their own “from the desk of leadership” statements.

Interested in writing your own? Here are some tips:

  1. Use First-Person Voice – There is a time for writing in the ‘grantspeak’ of third-person, but this isn’t it. You want your audience to feel your presence through this communication, and that is best done when it is clear who is doing the speaking. Using “I” and “me” makes it clear that the nonprofit leader is communicating personally.
  2. State the Facts – A ‘State of the Organization’ requires a forthright update on current conditions. That means outlining how programs have been disrupted, staffing impacted and finances analyzed. While this may mean sharing less than favorable news, it is also a time to outline the positives – how innovation has overcome obstacles and how human and financial resources have been mobilized. Your constituents want to know what is happening and it is important to provide a meaningful, data-driven update.
  3. Be Vulnerable – These are unprecedented times and no one is expected to be infallible. Everyone is still making sense of the long-term impact of this public health crisis. Be truthful with what you know and what you do not. This can be difficult for leaders who are more accustomed to projecting a positive image at all times. Vulnerability is a trait we seek when times are tough as it suggests our own fears and concerns are appropriate.
  4. Include a Story – Understanding how the last two months have transformed your nonprofit may be difficult for people without a lens on the nonprofit business model. Telling a story about a constituent served, a staff member impacted or a board member leaning in can help to illuminate current conditions for those reading it. This update is meant to be human-centered and emotionally evocative, and storytelling can be a very effective communication tool.
  5. Share Your Vision – The era of COVID-19 will end (at some point, right?) and your organization will still be here (we certainly hope). What are you hopeful to achieve? Three months ago, we all had ambition and strategic plans we were eager to implement against the backdrop of a strong economy. While the conditions may have changed, one hopes your desire to advance your mission has not. Your constituents want to know that you have the will to succeed. Your hopeful view of the future is needed now more than ever.
  6. Publish It Publicly – It may seem counterintuitive to air vulnerability and less-then-positive news in the bright light of day, but this is perhaps the most important feature of a strong leader statement. Your 501c3 is a publicly-held nonprofit, which means that everyone is a stakeholder whether an active donor/volunteer or not. Having the confidence to lower the barriers to access for this messaging demonstrates bold leadership and the courage of one’s convictions.

Need help conceptualizing this leader statement? Still trying to figure out how your organization will overcome the challenges of COVID-19? We’re here to help. Reach out today to schedule a chat.

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