iStock_000004573232XSmall.jpg“Do we really have to include the letter from the executive director/CEO/president in our newsletter?”

“Do we really have to include an executive message in our annual report?”

Nonprofit staff ask me these questions with the same look on their faces that a child has when she asks, “Do I really have to eat this broccoli?”

That’s because they are equally bland and mushy, and while everything else on the plate (or pages) may be great, you’d rather just pretend that overcooked broccoli (or letters) didn’t exist.

Here’s my order of preference for solving this problem:

(1) Drop it. No one will miss it.

This is definitely true in a newsletter. I think you can argue the case that an annual report is better with a personal message from the director, but only if it’s good. In my “How to Write a Four-Page Annual Report” webinar on Thursday, I’ll recommend either dropping it entirely or cutting it back to less than a third of a page. It’s just not that important compared to some other annual report must-haves.

(2) If you must keep it, move it.

When these letters are really bad, nonprofits seem to always make it worse by putting them on the cover of the newsletter. Move it to less valuable real estate (like the lower half of an interior page). After all, the Op-Ed page in a newspaper is in the middle, not on the cover. For an annual report, it really does need to be near the front. It doesn’t need to take up a whole page, however.

(3) If at all possible, give it a serious makeover.

The letter should serve a purpose other than executive director ego stroking. You should treat it just like any other article in your newsletter. What’s the message? Why do the readers care? How does the letter make your supporters feel good about themselves and your organization? The contents of the letter should be debated just like the rest of the editorial calendar. For annual reports, either use the letter as a personalized executive summary or as an extra helping of thanks to your supporters with a brief preview of good things to come.

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