A “stakeholder” is anyone who has an interest in your non-profit. Some typical stakeholders you might encounter include:
How you interact with stakeholders depends on what type of role they play in your theory of change - in other words, how important they are in achieving your outcome.
1. Building a stakeholder map
CE co-founder Karolina Sarek has created a guide on increasing the impact of your research by involving decision-makers. In this hypothetical research organization, the theory of change is that the organization shall conduct research that someone will act or build upon to improve the world. It would be a shame if the organization did a lot of great research, and then that research sat in an archive somewhere and never saw any practical use. Karolina’s post describes how to contact stakeholders early and often, to make sure that you are conducting research that they actually will use.
This principle applies to more than just research organizations. Whenever the effectiveness of your intervention relies on somebody else doing something, you should be talking to those people and looping them in on your decisions.
Look at your theory of change and try to identify as many stakeholders and decision-makers as possible. It often helps to put them in a spreadsheet. What comes next depends on the nature of your organization. If you are running a research organization, it might make sense to come up with a list of research questions and ask the people who are likely to use the research to rate those questions, as described in Karolina’s post. If you are running a corporate campaign, you might have a list of farms that you want to contact and speak to. Here are some templates to help you get started. Figure out a system for keeping track of stakeholders that makes sense for you.
2. Prioritize important stakeholders and communicate with them frequently
Do not put off working with stakeholders as unimportant. If you’re so busy with direct work that you don’t spend sufficient resources on interactions with stakeholders, your work may be wasted. For example, if a government agency reconsiders your permission to operate in a region, your intervention will never be implemented. If a grantmaking organization changes its priorities, it may never use your research to make decisions. If a stakeholder decision is critical to your mission, stay in frequent communication and maintain a close awareness of their current priorities.
Prioritize which stakeholders you talk to. It is easy to end up talking only to the most accessible or friendliest stakeholders. However, the most important stakeholders are the ones directly involved in generating impact. The spreadsheets outlined above can help you with this task.
If your stakeholder is an organization, try to maintain a solid relationship with all levels of staff, from top to bottom. If you only work with mid-level staff, your message may not get through. You want to have a direct and friendly relationship with the head of the organization as well.
You can use this customer relationships management template to keep track of stakeholders, ensuring that you speak to them regularly, and to organize your meeting notes. Such a template can also be turned into an app with a tool like AppSheets.