A deer in headlights, aka, the way you feel when Board members and donors ask how everything’s going. Kathryn Minshew’s advice for start-up CEOs, How Are Things Going? on the Harvard Business Review blog will resonate with any nonprofit leader or development director who’s fielded that question with trepidation.
Minshew writes: the secret to answering this question is realizing that your goal isn’t to summarize — it’s to set the conversation in motion along a productive path that generally relates to how you’re doing and what you’re working on. Have a couple good answers prepared (and update them regularly), and when someone asks how things are going, you’ll find yourself ready and poised to guide the conversation down the path you want it to go.
Here, here. What’s her formula for success?
1) Highlight two recent accomplishments.
2) Talk about one problem you’re working on.
3) Talk about what’s different than 3 or 6 months ago.
4) Ask for advice.
Seems easy, but when you’re worried about how lower year-end appeal return rates might impact programs or focusing all your efforts on managing one unruly Board member, your mind may be elsewhere. I’ve seen too many leaders (and been one, at times) miss opportunities to make a positive connection with someone because they’re too busy worrying about coming across as negative when times are tough.
Minshew reminds us that we own the message and can make each conversation productive. I’d add the advice that you make the practice of building a new script part of your organizational process. Dedicate time at each staff meeting to agree on recent accomplishments you want to communicate to your external audience. Talk about how to communicate any problems, stressing to staff what’s internal and confidential and what you are willing to share for the duel purposes of being transparent and getting help. It’s a good reminder that message alignment isn’t a once-a-year-annual-report kind of thing, but rather an ongoing, dynamic conversation that you, your staff, and your Board can and should direct when the question, how’s it going? comes your way.