Given a relentless news cycle full of pandemic surges, harrowing international events, dramatic weather events born of the climate crisis, ballot box battles, and more, this question comes up for our clients and collaborators more and more frequently.

Whether or not to make a public statement on a pressing issue related to or adjacent to your work is a question that organizations seem to face on the regular these days. Should we make a statement? Under what circumstances? When is it best to amplify other voices?

The more you can consider these decisions within the context of your organization’s strategic priorities, your values, and your audiences, the more effective the statements you do decide to make will be. A series of questions or criteria can help guide your decision-making process. We’ve drawn up a few for you to consider here:

Purpose Criteria/Questions

  • Why are we considering making a statement? What do we hope to accomplish? What is its purpose?
  • Is this OUR crisis? Are WE the best suited organization to make this statement? If not, could we instead amplify another organization or leader who is more closely connected to this issue?
  • If we make a statement, what comes next? Are we making a statement and then building on it or is it enough that we make a statement that stands alone?
  • What action are we committing ourselves to, in order to realize the values or desired outcomes expressed in the statement?
  • Is this issue directly related or adjacent to our work, our strategic priorities as an organization, or campaign?
  • Does this statement help further our work? How?
  • How important is it that we lend our voice to this issue? And important to whom?
  • How is this statement in alignment with or an expression of our values?
  • Should this be a statement of purpose/principles or solidarity?

Audience Criteria/Questions

  • Who are we speaking to? Which audiences? External/internal? Who is driving this and why?
  • How will this statement be received by our priority audiences? 
  • Does this statement help advance how we want to be perceived among our priority audiences?

Capacity Criteria/Questions

If you’ve determined that it makes sense from a strategic and/or values perspective to make a statement, it’s important to consider capacity in the short and medium term, depending on the life of the statement and whether it is part of a larger campaign. It’s also a good idea to have conversations with staff who might be asked to craft statements or weigh in on content to know that they could be called upon to help turn a statement around, sometimes quickly.

  • Is this something we have capacity to do currently?
  • Are we able to promote this statement and/or be available for interviews related to this statement?
  • Do we have expertise on staff/board to speak more in depth about this issue?

Sharing these criteria with staff and board can also support you in clarifying why you have made the decisions you’ve made, and generating broader support for them. (In essence, the criteria alone can be a helpful internal communications tool.)

Above all, the clearer you are on your organization’s institutional strategy–particularly your programmatic and brand strategy–the easier it will be to make these decisions when you’re presented with them. If you have a message platform to draw on to both help you craft your statement and help ensure alignment with your brand and institutional strategy, even better.

As we like to say, strategy is the answer to your capacity problems, and rapid response moments are the exceptions that prove this rule. A strong set of organizational strategies determine what is your work and what isn’t. Proper planning helps you to take the lead quickly when it makes sense, and be a better amplifier and ally when that is your more appropriate role.

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Irene Schneeweis loves listening closely for language, narratives, and strategies that will spark movement for social justice and human rights. In recent years, this has taken the form of partnering with clients such as the Center for Racial Justice in Education, Change Elemental, Prospera—International Network of Women’s Funds, If/When/How, Provide, and PEAK Grantmaking to craft communications strategies and messaging for rebranding efforts and campaigns.