Stakeholders: Who they are and why engage them

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Planning: Strategy & Workforce

Sitting at the breakfast table with my four year old, and she starts asking me about where we're going that day.

It's a Saturday, and my wife and I have a slate of fun outings planned with both of our kids; a trip to the playground, a stopover at the library while one of us shops, and then dinner with the grandparents (whom she loves to visit). However, at the moment, I'm preoccupied frantically trying to chop up some cheese slices for our 1 year old before she throws a tantrum. So I answer my four year old with a curt: "we're going out today."{C}

Well, that's not good enough. She gets frustrated and bellows out: "why can't you tell me anything!" I think to myself, good grief, what's wrong with her? She's going to love what we've got planned, and she knows she's not going to daycare today. Besides, it's not like we're going to be able to change our plans at this point, she's coming along for the ride whether she likes it or not! 

Have you ever approached stakeholder engagement this way? From the perspective that the opinions and thoughts of stakeholders aren't that critical, because your organization has already decided on a future course of action? Well, consider my four year old. She may not be able to influence where we're going that day, but if she's included in a meaningful conversation about our plans then she'll be far more engaged and not nearly as anxious. During strategic planning sessions I often get asked: "who are our stakeholders, and how can we involve them?" The answer to the first question is anyone who has an interest in what your organization is doing, whether they're directly involved or indirectly influenced. 

The answer to the second question is a bit more nuanced. The key distinction here is to identify who should be involved in direction-setting and planning, and who should be informed. Staff and board should, at a minimum, be very involved in organizational planning. However, like my daughter, there are others whom you may want informed in order to garner their support. But that doesn't mean they need to be completely involved in your organization's decision-making. 

When your organization undertakes organizational or strategic planning, who do you inform? And who do you involve? 

About the Author

Mark Friesen is the Director of Capacity Development at Vantage Point, where he assists not-for-profit organizations throughout BC with strategic planning, governance, and capacity building. Mark excels at assessing governance structures and finding democratic solutions to organizational challenges...


C Fast's picture
C Fast (not verified) on

I really like the distinction between involving and informing.  A great way to think about the whole SP process.  A simple framework to apply to those challenging decisions about how to engage people in the process.

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