How Often Should You Engage Stakeholders?

By Danielle Rocheleau

We have engaged tens of thousands of stakeholders — non-profit leaders, staff, service recipients, donors, members, and community partners.

What do we hear from participants? Regardless of who the group is, they tell us: “We need to do more of this!”

Although some organizations are hesitant to over-engage with their stakeholders, connecting more frequently can reduce pressure, help manage risk, inform decision making, and reinforce trust.

In this post I will explore:

Why do stakeholders want to be engaged more frequently?

Stakeholder engagement is rarely conducted for its own sake. Instead, it’s often embedded as part of a significant planning project, such as the development of a strategic, operational, or communications plan. These planning projects typically only happen every 3-5 years or when necessary, and so stakeholder engagement is similarly infrequent.

We understand that our clients are worried about taking too much of their valued stakeholders’ time – we can appreciate not wanting to take too much of anyone’s time. However, it’s rare for stakeholders to feel burned out with genuine, reciprocal communication. Instead, they often ask for more.

So, why are your stakeholders so interested in offering their feedback? Especially during a period of time that has been so intense and exhausting? Although counter-intuitive,  we have found that stakeholders actually tend to want to engage more during challenging periods of change.

They care

Your key stakeholders are either employed by you, or choosing to work with you in some capacity. They do this because they are aligned with your purpose. Purpose is a strong driver, and ultimately, your stakeholders want what is best for the organization.

They want to feel valued

By offering an opportunity to connect and have an open discussion, they feel important. Your outreach to them reinforces that you value them as much as they value your organization. It shows them that their opinion and experience matters.

They want to feel connected

Human connection is a strong motivator. Your stakeholders want to feel connected to the people, to the mission, and to the benefit your organization contributes to the community and to those it serves.

How does regular engagement benefit organizations?

So, we can understand why engagement matters to your stakeholders. But why does it matter for your organization? Isn’t this just an opportunity for people to air grievances? Doesn’t it just mean more work for you?

Well, yes – in some cases. But, there are significant benefits to intentional stakeholder engagement that far outweigh potential downsides, and make it a worthwhile exercise to conduct on a regular basis.

Gather new ideas

People have great ideas. If the expectation is set that while not everything may be operationally possible, that all ideas – no matter how creative or unconventional – are encouraged and will be heard. Never underestimate anyone in and around an organization who is passionate about its mission.

Educate your audience

Communicating directly with stakeholders gives you an opportunity to answer their questions and help them better understand what information is available. Engagement is not only meant as a means to gather information, but also as an opportunity to share information along the way.

Make better, informed decisions

The fresh perspectives and insights received through engagement may actually change your mind on an issue and allow you to make a more informed decision. Or, hearing from your stakeholders may reinforce a decision you’ve already made. It never hurts to consider a problem from a different view, and an informed decision should always be the goal.

Identify and manage risk

Open discussion may help you to identify risks before they become threats to your organization. It allows you to reflect on potential obstacles and ensure you mitigate the harm they can bring. It also allows you to learn what matters most to your stakeholders, helping you avoid courses of action that could distance them.

Build trust

Reaching out to stakeholders lets them know that you value their perspectives. This collaborative approach helps build trust, goodwill toward you and your organization, and often garners early “buy-in” to a new project or strategic direction. This can be especially useful if you’re working in the wake of a crisis. Rebuilding trust can be a long, arduous process, but it starts with making sure all your stakeholders feel like they have a seat at the table.

Recommended Next Steps

Begin your next change initiative or planning project with engagement

So, how frequently should your organization conduct engagement with stakeholders? There is no one-size-fits all approach, but we generally see organizations focus on engagement in the beginning stages of any major planning processes, and on a case-by-case basis when preparing for change. You can read more about this in our article about how and when to engage during major planning projects.

Engage annually, for its own sake

In thinking about strengthening your ongoing engagement with your stakeholders, and monitoring progress toward your strategic goals, we recommend an engagement strategy with an annual cadence without a “reason” other than ensuring regular opportunities for sharing feedback, and deepening connection.

How we can help

If that feels overwhelming, we’re here to help – we can plan your engagement, taking the pressure off of you and your team.

Our approach to engagement is to facilitate spaces that elicit authentic dialogue, solution-based discussion, and enhanced awareness through information-sharing. Our intent is to actively listen, ensure participants feel heard, and offer an engagement summary that enables the decision makers to maintain an accurate pulse of the perceptions, expectations, and experiences of those that matter most.

Get In touch

Fill out the form below to get in touch. We can setup a no-obligation discovery meeting to explore which engagement strategies might make the most sense for your organization, and how best to proceed.