Though not President of the United States, there are equivalents to the State of the Union for the nonprofit executive officer

Delivering a SOTU

Who knows if you or I will ever be President of the United States. But good communication requires a State of the Union (SOTU) for any organization. You might deliver this in a board retreat, on opening day, or the end of the year gala. All speechwriters agree that it’s a production. A few thoughts apply to a nonprofit board, organizational staff, and other stakeholders.

Chris Riback wrote an article years ago about How We Wrote the SOTU. At the time I lived in Arkansas. So my attention gravitated to Michael Waldman on writing Bill Clinton’s speeches. According to him, the speech was in the works for a month beforehand, and not just writing drafts.

In the administration of the US government, everyone is fighting to get their voice heard. Clinton saw this as an opportunity. Preparing to draft the SOTU, he gathered the pulse from all departments and areas. As Waldman represents it, they compiled memos, advice, and drafts into a “thick book of readings.”

…Clinton would get very deeply involved in editing the drafts and dictating new language. And then for Clinton, a few days before the speech itself, he would go rehearse in the family theater of the White House. And as he was rehearsing at the podium, he would keep writing. So that by the time he delivered it, he knew every inch of his government and every particle of the policies he was putting forward.

At the nonprofit level, you could solicit a memo from each department and/or area in a timely manner. Everyone contributes a brief description of where we are and where we’re going.

I don’t think you’d want to add another report to someone’s list. But people would appreciate your solicitation of their experience and perspective. Then you have an opportunity to show investment in your organization. I’d take the time to read every contribution. Integrate everything possible. Before addressing my organization, I’d rehearse until I could represent every aspect involved.

A great strategy. But (apologies: I do live in Arkansas) would you expect less from the last great president?


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