What is Your State of the Union?

Now is the time to share your nonprofit’s key 2015 priorities

On Jan. 20, President Barack Obama delivered the 2015 State of the Union address outlining his key legislative and national priorities for the year ahead to an estimated live audience of 31.7 million people.

You might not be the leader of the free world, and your volunteer, employee and donor base numbers may be closer the hundreds or thousands, light-years away from the multi-million mark. But your organization still has goals, objectives and priorities – that is, an agenda – for the year.

And now is the time to share it.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

Planning for yearly goals is often an arduous process, taking place within organizations through a series of meetings, focused discussions and rounds of concerted research and reporting. But the result of the process, usually an annual plan or organizational strategy, all too often doesn’t see the light of day beyond your organization. At best, it may be quietly distributed to key stakeholders.

Sometimes the rationale for keeping a lid on key organizational priorities may appear reasonable: the goals feature closely held metrics or numerical benchmarks not yet realized, or perhaps the plan contains proprietary, innovative or confidential tactics the agency will employ to achieve particular end results.

At the same time, there is risk in remaining close-lipped – either by not forthrightly sharing your organization’s New Year’s goals at all or by tucking away a summary on a seldom-visited section of your website, with no fanfare. The dangers of such intentional or accidental informational gatekeeping of organizational goals can be significant, according to Vanessa Wakeman, CEO of The Wakeman Agency, a firm specializing in event planning and public relations services for nonprofit organizations.

“The risk is a lesser engaged audience, which usually means dismal financial support,” she says. “This is in addition to an inability to cultivate new relationships with people who could be future supporters of your organization.”

According to Simone Joyaux in the Nonprofit Quarterly article “Donor Fatigue: An Excuse for Poor Fundraising Practices,” “[P]oorly informed fundraisers make donors frustrated, angry and fatigued by that particular organization.”

Choose wisely

A key feature of the Presidential State of the Union is the structured, organized presentation of priorities, or central pillars, with a thematic cadence that resonates no matter the platform (video, audio or print). Just like your annual strategic planning process, and the work that goes into the resulting document, the speech writing process for the State of the Union can be taxing, methodical and feel, at times, solitary.

But when you reveal and share some of your organization’s most important goals for 2015, you don’t have to feel like you are going it alone. An entire team of smart, skilled internal professionals have collaborated to develop the strategy. And in some cases, you have been backed by external experts who have evaluated and given their stamp of approval, too.

You are fully prepped, positioned and poised to provide your organization’s own spin on the State of the Union. Of course, you don’t have to spill all the beans of your 2015 goals to your audiences, but it is critical to pick and choose well.

Here’s how:

Represent key areas: Mine your internal teams and ask them to select the main goal that most pertains to their area or department. You will likely end up with a roster of shareable items from fundraising, programs, policy, research and volunteer areas, at a minimum. This will help ensure you have a broad, representative base of objectives that address key priorities important to each of your target audiences.

Be SMART: Pinpoint targets that follow the business-based acronym of being Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Focused and Time-Bound. SMART goals communicated to your audience provide an added boost of intention, offering well-defined and focused mile markers on your journey toward the year’s successes.

Select salient quick-hits: Focus on the priorities about which you are most confident. Choose those your organization is most likely to achieve and which are the least contingent on unknown factors or variables beyond your direct control or influence.

Less (money) is more: All too often, whether the perception is real or imagined, some audiences feel that nonprofits only reach out to them when it is time to raise more money. While some of your goals likely have a bottom line, emphasizing instead those aims that don’t depend on securing additional funds can be an unexpected feather in your cap that pays dividends later.

Emotional Appeal: Hard numbers, legalese and specialized jargon don’t have broad appeal. Get to the heart of the matter and reach the most common denominator among your audience by spotlighting goals with greatest emotional payoff.

Next: How to share your organization’s 2015 goals and priorities

Let’s Talk! If you were to plan your organization’s State of the Union, what would you include and why? When it comes to audience engagement, what are the benefits of being more of an “open book”?

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