Stakeholder engagement. There’s some nonprofit jargon that can easily overwhelm anybody. But it’s really just about who to involve in decision making, when to involve them, and at what level - all pieces that are essential to working with clients and others.
As a nonprofit consultant at Aurora Consulting, I talk with my colleagues about stakeholder engagement in relation to organization assessments, program evaluation, strategic planning, nonprofit governance, and many other areas. The questions of who needs to be heard from, what quality of information we need, how important consensus is, where will authority lie all become very important.
We also think about stakeholder engagement in working with our clients as we design processes for completing work. We often have a design team to help guide each step of the process, provide feedback, lend their expertise, and act as a conduit with the rest of the organization. When considering who to have on the design team, we think about levels of ownership and involvement and consider:
- Who needs to have buy-in with the process and the results?
- What input do we need and from whom?
- How quickly do we need to complete our process?
- Where does the authority lie to make decisions about the process?
As a chair of the board of directors of a small nonprofit, I also think about stakeholder engagement when working with the board. What decisions require everyone on the board to have a voice? When do we need consensus? What is our timeframe? When is a task force the right strategy? And what authority will we give that task force?
At work, we recently came across a helpful framework for stakeholder engagement in a report published by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations called “Do Nothing About me Without me.” Although the authors of the article outline four levels of stakeholder engagement in the context of grantmakers engaging stakeholders, it’s applicable to anyone.
You can see from the graphic above that as you move up along the chart, the levels of involvement and ownership increase. How do you know what level of involvement and ownership you need? Consider these questions:
Decide and announce: Does your need to make a quick decision and be in control outweigh the importance of reaching out for input? Are you prepared to deal with possible backlash from those you have not consulted?
Gather input: Do you have the time and resource to get input and include everyone you want? Is it clear who the key stakeholders are? To what extent will you use their feedback?
Consensus: Are you prepared to give authority to the group? Do you have the time and resources for a true process? Do you have a plan B in case this doesn’t work?
Delegate decision with constraints: Are you prepared to give authority to the group? Do the participants have the information and skills needed?
In case this is still confusing, let’s break it down and apply it to a basic daily task. I also think about stakeholder engagement when I think about dinner each night. Some nights I just decide that we are having kale and quinoa. Other nights, I ask for ideas and still make the decision myself carefully, weighing the input of my partner. Sometimes, my dear partner cooks dinner and I stay hands off. Lastly, I could ask my partner to cook something, but place limitations on it (i.e., no pasta). The right approach depends on our time, our moods, our dinner cravings, and our desire to cook together. The key is to make sure we are in agreement about how to engage each other and can weigh the level of involvement and ownership the other requires. Understanding these levels of stakeholder engagement can help you frame and communicate your process.
When might you use these levels of stakeholder engagement to help frame your decision-making processes at work or at home?
Images with permission from Grantmakers for Effective Organizations