Stakeholders: Who they are and why engage them

Planning: Strategy & Workforce
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Jul 8, 2015 | Blog

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? 

Mark Friesen headshot


Mark Friesen

Mark Friesen is the Executive Director at Columbia College, Canada’s longest established International not-for-profit college. He currently facilitates a monthly peer network of leaders dedicated to reimagining governance in the non-profit sector, and currently serves as Interim Chair of the Our Place Inner City Assembly. Mark has served as a volunteer, association founder, and an executive director, and has led fundraising, strategic planning and program development efforts in the sector for over 20 years. During his time at Vantage Point, BC’s leading not-for-profit capacity builder, Mark shifted his focus to governance; working with groups to enhance or redefine organizational decision making. Working with the Crown Agency Board Resourcing Office of BC, Mark guided the province to shift the governance and training material of BC’s public sector organizations away from shareholder accountability and towards governance in the public interest.

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