Why Your Nonprofit Needs a “State of the Organization” Address

Tips to address your team, share your vision and empower your ministry

From Michael J. Tomlinson (MT), CEO and President, BDI 

Read Time: 9 minutes 

Just recently, Joe Biden gave his first State of the Union address as President of the United States of America. In it, he covered a wide swath of topics from upheaval in the Ukraine, immigration in the U.S. and healthcare to our homelessness epidemic, opioid abuse and mental health.

These are topics that we all have been discussing amongst ourselves and on social media for a year… or in some cases, much longer. They are topics we all have a vested interest in, and the annual State of the Union address is a vision statement for guiding those interests.   

For most organizations, including nonprofits, vision is the most powerful driver of not only employee engagement, but of passion – a reason to wake up each day, excited and determined to make a difference. Your nonprofit needs an annual “State of the Organization” address to ensure that vision is clear and achievable for all involved.

Why your nonprofit needs a “State of the Organization” address 

In far too many organizations, the vision isn’t an annual conversation with the people who need to hear it most. Too often, the vision lives on a piece of paper or on a website page – or in the heads and hearts of a few key leaders – and that’s about it. But what would happen, friends, if we made it a point annually to state that vision? To talk through recent successes, future opportunities, and even challenges of achieving the vision? 

From experience, I can tell you conclusively that sharing an annual “State of the Organization” address at your nonprofit can inspire…

  • Greater team member engagement 
  • Leadership stepping up to motivate and inspire 
  • More dedication and passion for the cause 
  • Increased creativity in approaching challenges or building on successes 
  • A spirit of working together toward that shared vision

If that’s what you want for your organization, then your nonprofit needs a “State of the Organization” address! 

As nonprofits, we sit in the happy space of meaningful work… of a calling that has become a career. Our work has the potential for profound impact in other people’s lives and in our own. And by nature of the work, it’s inspiring and motivational to experience the rewards of caring for others, often those in desperate circumstances. 

Unfortunately, despite the good work nonprofits do, the vision – the fuel for the future – often goes unsaid and uncelebrated. Sometimes that’s because there’s so much change that it’s difficult to know what the future should look like. Other times it’s because many different folks are championing their own independent vision for a portion of the whole that they oversee. And yet other times it’s simply a function of precedent – i.e. no one has brought forth the vital vision in recent years. 

All said, none of these scenarios outweigh the powerful benefits of developing, codifying, and communicating vision for all of an organization’s stakeholders.  

That’s why I recommend you schedule an annual “State of the Organization Address” at your nonprofit. It not only acts as the annual reminder of your organization’s past, present and future… but it also brings your organization’s vision to life for both your employees and your leadership team.   

3 key topics for a “State of the Organization” address 

In thinking about a “State of the Organization” address, it’s often easiest and best to think about it as an overview of 3 key areas: 

  1. Where you’ve been 
  2. Where you are now 
  3. Where you want to go next

Your nonprofit needs a “State of the Organization” address that highlights all 3 areas to effectively bring your vision to life.  

Topic 1: Where you’ve been

In your first address, look back at your past to cast a vision for your future. I recommend including the following:

  1. A brief history of your organization
  2. Important milestones achieved (for instance, staff, outreach and financial growth)
  3. A reminder of your mission and vision statements
  4. An assessment of how you are (or aren’t) fulfilling your mission and vision statements 

When you’re delivering your “State of the Organization” address annually, give a recap of what has happened since last year – discussing both the wins and roadblocks toward meeting last year’s goals. 

Topic 2: Where you are now 

Describe the current environment of your organization. Consider asking and answering the following questions:

  1. What has changed, internally and/or externally, that will change the face of your work environment? 
  2. What are your organization’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats? 

You may have caught my SWOT analysis at the start of 2022 – like I said then, I’ve often found that a quick analysis can help any organization “hear the music” over the thrall of elevated voices, hoots and hollers. 

Your nonprofit needs a “State of the Organization” address that is truthful about weaknesses and threats, but also optimistic – reassure employees that even while facing these challenges, your organization is on the right track. This is also a time to shout out the good news, the exciting developments and, most of all, everyone on the team. 

Topic 3: Where you’re going 

In envisioning your future, what’s next? Here are some helpful questions to get your team motivated and passionate as you look to your organization’s future: 

  1. What can employees look forward to in the next year? 

Whether it’s a new project, a new program or service, or even a new internal initiative, this is a great way to inspire enthusiasm, passion and dedication among your entire organization.  

  1. How can the organization improve?

Maybe it’s missing deadlines. Maybe it’s communication and cooperation between teams or with external partners. Maybe it’s a project that didn’t turn out as expected. Whatever happened, acknowledge missteps to prevent repeating them.

  1. What are some pressure points on the horizon? 

For example, in the last few years, we’ve seen many organizations turned upside down by the pandemic. What continuing effects may that have in the future with supply chains and other shortages? How will social volatility affect your organization’s work and standing in the community? Is the need for your organization’s services expanding at a greater rate than you can meet? This is the time to talk through all the potential challenges as you look forward, based on where you are now.  

Here are a few other important topics you may need to discuss in your nonprofit’s “State of the Organization” address: 

  1. What will your key performance indicators be for the coming year? 
  2. Are there any big-picture, long-term, “the sky’s the limit” initiatives that your organization dreams of achieving? 
  3. What are a few concerns voiced by the team, and how will the leadership address them in the coming year? 

Don’t forget time for questions! 

I also advise that you specifically earmark some time after this address to answer questions from your team – even challenging ones! Open and transparent engagement shows that you and your organization are comfortable and confident in answering any questions or concerns. 

Give your team an opportunity to chime in – better to resolve any confusion or clarify any goals now rather than be on an entirely different page. The more they understand the vision, the greater ownership they can inherit to carry it forward.

Use this address to bring your organization’s vision to life! 

Make it a point annually to revisit your vision and your nonprofit’s direction each year with a presentation of your “State of the Organization.” It’s my hope that by setting aside time for this address, your team will reach greater heights of passion, dedication and teamwork – and the outcomes I shared above. And most importantly, you’ll experience a spirit of serving together sweeping across your organization as you work toward that shared vision.

Finally, a word to my directors and manager leader friends.  

Perhaps you can be an advocate for an organization-wide “State of the Organization,” but that’s outside your purview today. I’d argue that a “State of the Team” vision and communications are equally important, for all the same reasons stated above.  

What I love and respect most about those who choose to serve in nonprofits vocationally is the passion and ownership y’all have for the work. Pursuing growth and excellence isn’t just about earning a paycheck or being a cog in a machine – real lives are improved, saved even, as a result of the fulfillment of big visions and dreams. Even if top leaders are sharing the nonprofit’s high-level vision, I challenge you to own and share your practical portion of that vision with your team. For if not us, who? And if not now, when?

Onward and forward!

  • Michael Tomlinson, BDI CEO and President

    Michael J. Tomlinson, CEO and President

    Michael J. Tomlinson, better known as “MT,” is the CEO and President of BDI. With more than 25 years of executive leadership in business development and media, MT’s expertise involves leading organizations like Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk and Dunham+Company in the ideation and execution of successful integrated marketing, broadcast and digital media, and fundraising strategies that fuel growth.

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