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Powerful Transition Communications Part 3: Storytelling Makes It Stick. Practice Makes It Better.

Creating a shared understanding is just the beginning. Once you capture their attention, don’t let them go. Reach for the heart. Create a compelling narrative and scripts that focus on why you are going through a transition and why your audience should care. So often in nonprofits, we laden our messaging with jargon-rich mission statements and program descriptions. We list and list and list the things we do, and even how they are done, and all that itemizing and jargon just distances the reader.

Leverage, benchmarking, metrics, return on investment, value proposition, knowledge products, incentivize, dimensionalize. Sound familiar? Are you snoring yet? These are clunky, cloudy phrases, lifted from business manuals, often used in an attempt to impress funders. Unfortunately, the phrases need translation, and by the time they’re translated, the reader is asleep. Be careful about how you use numbers and percentages of programs and clients. While the factoids are profoundly essential to nonprofits, they’ll be useless if we can’t make them meaningful and memorable.

Instead of listing programs and facts, tell stories. Your nonprofit’s creation story can take someone’s breath away. Who is the protagonist? Likely your founder, what challenges did s/he face? What was their vision and pathway? Include the details, describe the place and time. Evoking the listener’s or reader’s emotions will make it matter and make it memorable.

With gratitude and credit to Andy Goodman and Tony Proscio for general storytelling jargon wisdom.

“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” Mahatma Gandhi

A great benefit of doing early communications planning is that you can build in time to practice. For spokespeople, staff, Board members, and the outgoing and incoming executives, practice will always improve the messaging, delivery and effectiveness of your transition. Schedule your practice sessions even before you’ve created your playbook, and then once you’ve finished your playbook, you’ll have time set aside on everyone’s calendar to practice. There’s an added benefit to scheduling practice sessions: it clearly creates the expectation, even for seasoned professionals, for the need and value of practice.

Who are the best people to lead the practice sessions? Who on your team embodies the tone and demeanor that you want conveyed to your various audiences? Who immediately evokes an, “Ah, yes, that’s us, that hits the spot.”? Answering these questions will point you to your most effective trainers. You’re in good shape if those trainers are also your internal communications team. Often, it can be helpful to bring in outside trainers. Look for external support or consultants who are great listeners, a good cultural fit with your organization, and have experience and expertise in transition communications.

Proactively Plan For The Inevitable

A Guide To Leadership Transition & Succession

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How many sessions and when to schedule them? Schedule practice sessions as early as you can, and plan for at least one hour per group. Two or three follow up sessions are ideal. In my experience, staff have a big appetite for communications training. Rather than resisting the time it takes, they are relieved and welcome the chance to learn, hone and practice the very real high-stakes situations that require them to rattle off the answers to “What happened?”, and “Why?”

Next up: The Follow Through — Playbooks Are Not Just for Football. They’re Essential for Smooth Transitions.

For more information, comments, questions, and suggestions, please contact
Sara Ying Rounsaville
Rounsaville and Associates

Sara Ying Rounsaville

Sara currently leads Rounsaville and Associates, a strategic communications firm. She was Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications at The San Francisco Foundation (TSFF). Under Sara\'s leadership, TSFF\'s brand earned a regional and national reputation as one of the nation\'s foremost philanthropic hubs for community impact and social change. Most recently, Ms. Rounsaville served as\'s Vice President of Communications. She has served on the boards of Asian Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, Asian Immigrant Women Advocates, YMCA of Berkeley, and Planned Parenthood Golden Gate.