First-Person Nonprofit: Making the Case (Statement!)

Alice Rossignol is a development writer and editor for The Nature Conservancy. Here she puts her pen to paper about a big professional first. She decided to leap or maybe she got pushed. Either way, a story we need to hear again and again!

"So, I got a second draft of the case from the contract writer this morning," the voice of my boss cuts in and out, broken by ambient noise only a cell speakerphone could produce. She must be driving.

"Oh yeah?" I reply, and shoot off a quick email to a colleague about an unrelated project. I'm driving too--just a different vehicle of distraction.

"Yeah...it wasn't up to par."

I sigh and try to bring my attention away from my fluorescently-lit and filled inbox. This wasn't great news. This piece needed to be done in the next few months or we were in trouble. Drafting the first two versions had already eaten up precious time.

"That's too bad." Click. Send. I launch another email into interweb space.

"Yeah, so I kind of fired her."

My fingers pause above the keyboard. This was very bad news.

I joined this team just a few short weeks ago and since that time had barely been able to scrape together a passable understanding of our work. My goals were simple during this time of onboarding and confusion: Don't mess up. Impress Alex. Not among these goals was putting together a case statement, the most compelling and clearest argument of why someone should support our work. It wasn't something I was at all prepared for--

"...and I'm hoping that maybe you could take over," Alex continues. "You know, manage the whole process, writing, review, design...the works."

--nor was it something I could fake easily.

"You think you could do that?"

"Oh, for sure. I totally got this."

Ha. Small words for a huge undertaking.

Over the next several weeks, every time I sit down to write, I come down with a big, nasty case of the WWADs--what would Alex do? Would she phrase the lede like this? Or maybe she'd bury it a bit and build the suspense. What about this work, feature it or simply list it? Is the tone urgent enough? Should I trim the word count here? Everything is an exercise in second guessing myself. Not one word comes easily.

But, days of struggling to channel Alex, miraculously, result in something I feel pretty good about. I shoot it off to her coated with caveats, "This still could use some work... it's just a rough start... probably needs revisions."

I wait. For three days. Her reply finally enters my inbox: "Deep sigh of relief...this is exactly what I was looking for." Air leaves my lungs at an uncomfortably loud volume for the crowded cubicles around me. "Now let's get it to review."

All the cooks show up to the kitchen, plus some uninvited sous chefs.

"Do you want to add the updated vision statement as well, between our mission and values?" Louise, one of our science leads, pipes in.

"Wow. 100? Really?" questions Susan from the conservation team.

"Can we use a name here? This seems weird without a name..." says fellow writer Brad.

"Redundant with first sentence of previous paragraph. I'd pick one or the other and include the Caribbean and Canada," Liz in fundraising adds.

"You may also want to mention that nutrient loading has impacted water supplies (i.e., Toledo)," Louise jumps in (again).

Things on the design front are a struggle too. Bill, our freelance designer, is a heavy breather and it sounds like his mouth is very close to the receiver.

"I mean, what's wrong with this picture?" Breath. "What would you prefer?"

"I dunno, like a landscape shot or something," I reply.

"Ok, so something like this?

"No."

"How about this?"

"No, no. Something like this."

"Ohhh...a shot of a landscape, not a photo that is landscape oriented."

Breath.

I put my head down on my desk. And power through. Persistence. Trial. Error. Coffee.

Months later I crack open a bottle of wine. It's 2 p.m. on a Thursday. I'm celebrating. I just carried this case statement to term and signed for a hefty print order. As an added bonus, the finalized piece is pretty damn good! I give myself a pat on the back--

--an email from Alex appears. "Hey, can you look into this?" She refers to a forwarded message below. "Did we forget to put Alaska on our map of North America?"

My stomach drops through my body onto the floor. The message describes how we have single-handedly demoralized our entire staff up north by inadvertently leaving them off the document's map. I call Alex.

"It's ok," she slices through my flurry of apologies. "Just hold the print job, fix the map and re-submit the order," she goes on to explain that we need it ready and perfect for a donor event around the corner, "Can you handle that?"

I take a swig. And think back on the past months.

"Oh, for sure. I totally got this."

And this time, I believed it.

Courtesy of the author

Alice Rossignol is a Development Writer and Editor for The Nature Conservancy, the world's leading conservation organization. She holds an English degree from the University of Portland and a master's degree in environmental journalism from Michigan State University. You can reach her at alrossignol@gmail.com. Views expressed here are her own.

Comments (2)

  • I love this article, it is exactly what I needed to read just now. I am the treasurer for a tiny nonprofit community center in a tiny unincorporated town and we are embarking on a capital improvement project of great proportions. After hoping someone else will create the case statement I've begun to realize I will have to have a guiding role in it, and your article has left me feeling more hopeful and inspired that I have in a long time. Thank you! (I'm looking forward to that bottle of wine in a few months.)

    Apr 13, 2017
  • I'm so relieved others feel the way I do on any given day I'm writing a grant proposal!!! Hooray! I'm normal...or at least I think I am. (And there I go with the second-guessing again). :)

    Apr 25, 2017

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