Understanding who is important to your organisation, why they are important and how to communicate to them can sound like a no-brainer. However many Non Profit organisations that I speak to, have some elements of stakeholder management in place but haven’t pulled it all together and don’t really know where to start.
Stakeholder management is an important part of your marketing mix and ideally needs to be accommodated within your strategic plan. In simple terms, good stakeholder management leads to increased engagement and interest from your stakeholders, which in turn can lead to outcomes such as increased funding, more partnerships and raised profile, not to mention improvements in your reputation, image and overall professionalism.
So, for those Non Profit organisations that want to improve their stakeholder management, here are my top 5 tips to get you started.
- Understand the why.
Work out who your stakeholders are and why each of them is important to you. I know this sounds basic, but I’m constantly surprised at the lack of real analysis organisations put into the ‘why’. Many can easily pull together a list of every person and company they deal with and call them stakeholders. Understanding why they are on the list provides context to your relationship, which in turn helps you work out how to effectively communicate with them, now and in the future.
There are many and varied reasons why a stakeholder can be important to you… too many to list. Some reasons depend on the category of stakeholder – funders are the obvious example here. To get you started here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What do they currently provide to our organisation?
- What could they provide?
- How important are they to our current operations/outcomes?
- How important are they to our goals and vision?
- Do we share the same values and aims?
- Who can they influence?
Recording this information is also vital. It spreads the knowledge around, provides everyone with context and helps new staff members get up to speed a lot quicker. Which brings me nicely to the second tip.
- It’s all about that (data) base.
One person’s Outlook contact list is not a database. A whole lot of small lists that can be combined each time you want to send out anything – also not a database. And, hold onto your hats folks, an Excel spreadsheet is not actually a database.
Before I have a posse of Excel aficionados abusing me, let me say Excel is an excellent piece of software. It does a hell of a lot of wonderful things, some of which are a mystery to me. But it was designed to be a spreadsheet, not a database. Largely because it’s readily available, most organisations start off their stakeholder journey by building a list in Excel. For some small Non Profits who just want to keep contact details for a handful of stakeholders, this may well suffice. But for most, you really need something that is less ‘list’ and more ‘Customer Relationship Management’ software. Essentially a good database is responsive, accommodates all your stakeholder engagement activities and provides you with some analysis to assist with evaluation.
To choose a database that suits you, the first step is to work out what you are likely to want the database to do now and in the future, and what kind of information you would like it to store and provide. Do you need it to store contact details to send out information and invitations; track donations and generate tax receipts; keep client information; track interaction with partners or potential partners; track all volunteer work, etc, etc.
You also need to consider what other software or systems you need it to play nicely with. Then it’s time to research what’s available and what others in your field use. Sometimes the nature of your work will point you to a specialised type of database. Of all the tips in this article that will improve your stakeholder management, this is the one worth spending some money on. Check out your usual funding options and agencies – in Western Australia Lotterywest has a grant category for Information Technology and Web that databases fit under.
- One size does not fit all.
When talking to Non Profits about their needs I mostly hear “we need a newsletter” and “we should be on social media”. Yes, newsletters and social media are popular communication tools used to engage stakeholders, but that doesn’t automatically mean they will suit your organisation. Other tools like an interactive website, personal reports, blogs or regular briefing meetings may well be a better fit for you to use in communicating with your stakeholders.
Choosing your communication tools will largely depend on the types and number of stakeholders that you have, what kind of information you want to communicate to them and how often, what level of engagement you are looking for, and your organisational capability (see tip 5 below). For example if your stakeholders are mostly funders and some self-selected members or advocates that you rely on to continue to operate, then the personal touch of individualised reports or meetings is going to be more relevant than sending out a tweet. If you have thousands of stakeholders that include every type known to humankind, then it’s likely you are going to need a combination of communication tools. You do not have to use them all… be strategically selective and again, get advice.
- Was it good for you?
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that communication is two-way. The heart of really effective stakeholder management is accommodating your stakeholders’ preferences. Spending time, money and effort to get up a really good facebook page is completely wasted if you find that your key stakeholders would actually prefer a newsletter they can email to their staff. Some people love getting blog updates, some prefer written material to read on public transport and others won’t engage with anything that isn’t more than 140 characters. As much as possible, allow your stakeholders to choose how they receive their information. And you do this by simply asking them and then recording their preferences on that great database you’ve recently researched, purchased and developed.
- Consider your capacity.
The biggest mistake organisations make is to introduce some elements of stakeholder management without working out who will make it happen. Responsibility for the upkeep of the database, running stakeholder engagement activities and managing communications such as newsletters, your facebook page or your website, needs to be allocated to staff members who have the capability and capacity to tick it all over…. week, after week, after week. Expecting people to absorb extra duties without considering sustainability is setting them (and the organisation) up for failure. How many times have you received one or two newsletters from an organisation, never to hear from them again? You really don’t want to join that club. This stuff takes up a lot of time, which needs to be factored into your decision making. You might need to consider providing training, reallocating some duties or adding staff. Some organisations will spread out the work, while others give it all to one person. Either way, stakeholder management duties need to be included into job descriptions. You will also need to review current policies or introduce new ones – particularly if you move into social media.