SOTU for NGOs

I was asked in an interview once how I would get to know the full breadth the organization. It was a reputable environmental nonprofit that was credited with winning the protection of and continued to be involved with a very large resource area. My terrible answer: “Lot’s of phone calls.”

Though I’ll never be President of the United States with an answer like that, there are equivalents to the State of the Union (SOTU) address for the executive officer of a nonprofit such as the Board Address or Opening Day.

Chris Riback’s article How We Wrote the SOTU in Political Wire…is a great read in this regard. Currently residing in Arkansas, my attention gravitated to what Michael Waldman had to say about speechwriting for Bill Clinton. According to him, the speech was in the works for a month beforehand, and not just writing drafts. All speechwriters agree that it’s a production. This is where I began drawing an application to the question of addressing a nonprofit board, employees and/or stakeholders.

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

…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 I’ve seen this done effectively in much the same way. Prior to the occasion for speaking, you solicit a memo from each department and/or area. The impetus is to have a brief description of where we are and where we’re going. The key is to solicit this in a timely manner. The state of the organization is going to appear very different if you’ve just added another report to someone’s list of responsibilities instead of asking your employees for their perspective and opinion as part of the process.

Then you have the opportunity to demonstrate investment in your organization–the people who really are the organization–by reading it, collaborating with what they have to say, and rehearsing it until you know every inch of your organization and every particle of actions with which it’s involved.

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

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