Thinking Through How to Involve Your Stakeholders in Strategy Development

6 min read

If we’ve done our job over these last few weeks, by now you’re hopefully feeling inspired about the Shared Power Strategy™ philosophy, or at least a little intrigued. I hope you’re wondering how you can start to dip your toe into the waters of authentically engaging your stakeholders in the process of shaping your nonprofit’s strategies. And today, I’d like to offer a first step.

Authentic, effective stakeholder engagement begins with getting super clear about who your organization’s stakeholders are, and then working to understand how interested and accessible they are for participation in the strategic planning (or other strategy development) process. 

So let’s start there. 

Who are your nonprofit’s stakeholders? 

Complete the stakeholder audit worksheet below (editable/printable version here, pages 1-2) to ensure you’re thinking as expansively as you should about all the people and groups who affect, and are affected by, your organization. Check off all the stakeholder groups from the list that apply to your nonprofit, and provide more details about who makes up these groups. Then, share this information with your leadership team to get everyone on the same page about who you’re referring to when you discuss your organization’s stakeholders.

Stakeholder Audit Worksheet

Our stakeholders include:

  • Beneficiaries
    • Participants
    • Clients
    • People who use our organization’s programs and/or services
    • Other beneficiaries (please also include the specific language you use to refer to your organization’s beneficiaries – ex: patients, students, neighbors, youth etc.)
      ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  • Staff
    • Leadership staff
    • Non-leadership staff
    • Other staff stakeholders (please specify)
      ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 
  • Board
    • Board leadership
    • Other board members
    • Other board stakeholders (please specify)
      ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  • Funders
    • Individual donors 
    • Philanthropic foundations
    • Corporate funders
    • Government agencies
    • Other funders (please specify)
      ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  • Government
    • Elected officials
    • Government agencies
    • Other government stakeholders (please specify)
      ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  • Community members
  • Partners
  • Family and friends of beneficiaries
  • Affiliates (federated organizations)
  • Other groups not included above (please specify)
    ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Next, consider each of the groups you checked off in the stakeholder audit worksheet, and think about how they might be most interested in or able to provide feedback on your strategic plan or other strategies. Aim to match each of your stakeholder groups to at least one of the engagement mechanisms on the stakeholder engagement worksheet below (editable/printable version here, pages 3-4). I say at least one because there’s often a case for using several engagement methods with a single stakeholder group. For example, you might issue a survey to your beneficiaries to get a sense of what they see as your organization’s greatest opportunities before you begin strategic planning, and then a listening session mid-way through the planning process to get their input on the pillars you’ve begun to define for your plan. 

Of course, there may be some groups for which none of the suggested engagement mechanisms seem appropriate. For example, very young people, those experiencing serious illness, or those facing trauma may not be good candidates for lending direct input into your strategies. In those cases, think about whether there are folks who can provide input on their behalf, such as their close friends, family members or caregivers.

 

Stakeholder Engagement Worksheet

These are the engagement mechanisms likely to be the best fit for engaging our stakeholders in providing input or feedback on our strategies:

  • Survey: a written set of questions, with open and/or close-ended response options, intended to get information from a sample of a group that can be applied to that group as a whole. Surveys are typically most useful at the very start of the strategic planning/strategy development process.
    • This is likely to be a good fit for the following stakeholder groups: ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 
  • Listening session: an in-person or virtual meeting with a group of stakeholders where you share a specific aspect of your strategy with them (before it is finalized) and seek their feedback and input in real time. Listening sessions are typically most useful around the mid-point of strategy development.
    • This is likely to be a good fit for the following stakeholder groups: ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 
  • Interview: a one-on-one conversation with an individual stakeholder where you ask for general input into your strategic direction, or share a specific aspect of your strategy (before it is finalized) and seek their feedback and input in real time. Interviews can be useful at all points in the strategy development process.
    • This is likely to be a good fit for the following stakeholder groups: ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 
  • Plan review: the process of sending a strategic document, like an executive summary of a strategic plan, to a group of stakeholders and asking for their input on it. Plan review is typically most useful as you’re nearing the end of the strategy development process.
    • This is likely to be a good fit for the following stakeholder groups: ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 
  • Outcomes review: the process of sending a report on your organization’s key results and outcomes over a defined time period to your stakeholders and asking for their questions and feedback on the progress you have made. Outcomes review is typically most useful after a strategy has been developed and is in the process of being implemented.
    • This is likely to be a good fit for the following stakeholder groups: ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 
  • Stakeholder strategy committee: a group of stakeholders (internal and external) assembled short-term for the sole purpose of lending input into your strategic plan or another strategy that meets ~2-4 times during the strategy development process. It’s typically best to assemble this committee at the start of the strategy development process and keep them together until the strategy is complete.
    • This is likely to be a good fit for the following stakeholder groups: ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 
  • Stakeholder board: a group of stakeholders (usually primarily external) assembled long-term for the purpose of lending sustained, long-term input on your organization’s strategies and strategic direction overall. This sort of board can be assembled at any time, and members typically have term limits that last 1-5 years. Weighing in on your strategic plan or other strategies is typically only one of their various responsibilities.
    • This is likely to be a good fit for the following stakeholder groups: ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

If you’re having trouble deciding which stakeholder groups to map to which engagement mechanisms, take a look at the spectrum below. It maps engagement mechanisms from “lightest lift” to “heaviest lift” and may help you think through which stakeholder groups would be a good fit for each. 

nonprofit stakeholder engagement spectrumBy now, it’s probably clear that deciding how to engage your many diverse stakeholders in the process of shaping your strategies is anything but simple. That’s why it’s where we begin with most of our clients, and where we spend a lot of our time at the onset of our strategy engagements.

In the next few weeks, we’ll share more tools and resources that will help you begin to bring the Shared Power Strategy™ philosophy to life. Until then, if you have any questions about how to navigate auditing your stakeholders and choosing the right engagement mechanisms for them, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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