The executive director came to the microphone during the nonprofit organization’s annual holiday party. More than 100 staff members and their families gathered for a buffet dinner. Santa Claus would later visit with gifts for the children.
“I hope you all enjoy our party tonight,” he said in a monotone voice and a somber face, “because I don’t know if we will be able to afford to have this party next year.”
Those comments were neither motivational, nor comforting. It prompted spouses of employees to ask plenty of questions during the ride home:
- Is the organization in financial trouble?
- Will you get a salary increase or should we plan for a salary cut or freeze?
- Should you start looking for another job at a more stable organization?
The executive director’s negative remarks regarding the organization’s financial outlook weren’t accurate or appropriate. This organization, led by one of the best fundraising professionals in the country, overcame obstacles, achieved its financial goals and finished with a surplus the following year. But the comments created a culture of fear and uncertainty going into a new year and a challenging annual campaign. Similar situations can be averted by leaders and communicators by spending time identifying and developing key messages and delivering them.
Decide To Communicate
Some leaders might not see the value in holiday or year-end communication. They may see the strategy as a waste of time and money if they don’t provide measurable return on the investment.
However, when high-performing organizations achieve goals and objectives, they invariably attribute success to a positive culture created by high-quality communication. If your organization decides against a holiday or year-end message, your stakeholders may begin to question your values. Even though there isn’t any evidence to indicate a pending crisis, not sending a message can create a sense of doubt or confusion with your audiences. Silence at the end of a record-setting year can communicate a decisive lack of caring toward your employees and other stakeholders.
Decide On The Message
If your organization hasn’t taken the time to review messages for holiday or year-end communications, it’s not too late. A positive and transparent relationship—which always needs to be created, maintained or enhanced—between top leaders and communicators is essential. The relationship should result in a year-round evaluation of what key messages your organization should communicate. It’s best if this practice is given the same importance as reviews of other operational reports, metrics or dashboards during executive-level meetings.
Communicators can then support leadership by preparing and distributing the messages—often pertaining to the organization’s goals and objectives— to stakeholders or selected audiences.
Decide On The Channel
During holiday parties or year-end gatherings, most top leaders will make brief remarks to those in attendance. However, it’s not a requirement. Sometimes simply enjoying the company of staff, volunteers or other stakeholders will communicate a sense of caring throughout your organization.
If leadership decides to speak during these events, it should be brief, positive and aligned with other messages from the organization. If the organization chooses not to have a leader speak, a holiday or year-end message can be sent in a holiday card to employees or through other established channels, such as newsletters, posters or digital media.
Decide on Gratitude
There’s much to be gained when an organization intentionally pauses during the holiday season or the end of the calendar year to publicly reflect on how it’s fulfilling its mission. It might not be immediately measurable, but there are tremendous benefits gained from expressing appreciation for the work of your staff or volunteers. Recognizing your team for their efforts and accomplishments helps build trusting relationships. Trust is the most precious asset in your organization and leadership.
Our society is obsessed with the fast-paced sprint to get all of the gifts purchased, the preparations completed and meeting everyone’s holiday expectations. However, your organization can stand out by making a special effort to communicate how your staff, volunteers or other stakeholders are a gift and you appreciate what they contribute. Those messages will be remembered and can help you and your organization start the new year with optimism and a renewed commitment.