Chief Communications Officer, Pacific Council on International Policy.
On Monday, June 1, 2020, I showed up for my nonprofit job with one item on my agenda: to issue an organizational statement affirming that Black lives matter.* It was a week after the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, and over the weekend, the country had erupted in cries for justice for Black lives, spilling into the streets and demanding systemic change. My city, Los Angeles, was home to some of the largest demonstrations and marches in the country.
The organization for which I lead communications is dedicated to global policy engagement in LA, but as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, we are strictly nonpartisan and have a clear line that stops before lobbying. But I knew that our organization could not stay silent in the wake of acts that started long before George Floyd. Months earlier, we had published an op-ed claiming institutionalized racism was a national security threat tarnishing our country’s image abroad. We took a clear stance then when we didn’t feel there was enough mainstream national attention on the subject, and we needed to do so again.
That Monday morning, our leadership team dropped all other items on our calendars and gathered virtually to come up with the main points of the statement together. I then reworked the first draft until everyone was happy with the final outcome. We wanted the statement to not only reflect our mission to connect across borders and boundaries but also our stated commitment to improving diversity, equity and inclusion across the foreign policy field. We connected current events to our organizational priorities without crossing the line of our nonpartisanship. The response from our members was overwhelmingly positive.
With so many crises unfolding in the past year, the organizational or brand statement has become standard procedure for many corporations and nonprofits alike. Studies have shown mixed results (paywall) for how consumers perceive a brand that takes a political stance on either side of the aisle, but one thing that’s clear to me is that there is no longer a solid divide between politics and commercialism. Consumers want authenticity from brands. (According to 2019 research covered in Social Media Today, 90% of consumers said authenticity is important for deciding which brands to like and support.) Authenticity might mean going public about a poor track record of hiring people of color (and importantly: plans to change that) or committing to donate to a specific cause.
As new crises continue to happen in 2021, my nonprofit organization has written more statements and taken a stand when the cause is related to our mission — without crossing the line that would harm our 501(c)(3) status, which could result in penalties. A delicate balance of words shows appropriate support for or against something and should be more focused on a cause than a specific individual. Here are some tips for writing your statement:
• Revisit your mission statement and brand values. How is the issue related? Write a statement that explicitly mentions and reflects your values and mission.
• Consider your audiences who might rally behind your statement and those who might have questions or concerns. You can try to get ahead of negative feedback by addressing it gracefully in the statement itself, i.e., “While all might not agree with this statement or understand why we are issuing it, we hope you will engage in civil dialogue with us.” This is how you might change some hearts and minds, rather than placing blame or alienating part of your audience.
• Avoid reference to names of political leaders that you disagree with and instead focus on the policy or issues at hand; this is where change typically happens, after all.
• State how your organization will contribute to solutions. Think beyond financial contributions. How can your organization or company first make changes internally that can contribute to large-scale change?
Taking a stand does not have to mean getting political or drawing boundaries between “them” and “us.” Taking a stand using a written organizational or brand statement shows authenticity as long as it aligns with the purpose of your brand, your mission and your strategy. Your customers should already be loyal to you because of the quality of the service or product you offer. If you make it clear what you stand for or against, they should also see the value of following a brand that is genuine to itself and connects its work to the world around us.
*We wanted to be clear about the distinction between the movement for Black lives and the organization, Black Lives Matter. By aligning with the movement instead of a single organization, we could avoid entanglements related to specific policy stances.
Forbes Communications Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?
Chief Communications Officer, Pacific Council on International Policy. Read Marissa Moran Gantman’s full executive profile here.