Nonprofit organizations do amazing work. They are continually asked to do more with less and are rarely given the credit they deserve for making miracles happen. They move at the speed of light — and then strategic planning happens.
Once a year or perhaps every few years, nonprofit organizations slow down just long enough to take a look at themselves. And that’s when the opportunity presents itself; that’s when the organization has the opportunity to do what it’s not permitted to do during the rest of the year by virtue of its day-to-day pace. It is at this moment, that the board and staff members have this delicious opportunity not only to listen to each other, but also to the organization’s external stakeholders.
As a consultant who interviews stakeholders about the hopes, fears, views, and visions they have for organizations they care so passionately about, I can tell you this is one of the most powerful tools that exists for moving an organization forward.
There are many powerful outcomes from interviewing stakeholders; here are three.
Interviews of stakeholders are recommended in order to scan an organization’s environment to find out what key individuals think about the organization’s performance, priorities, and future. The data these interviews generate is as powerful as the questions posed, the process used in selecting stakeholders, and the consultant conducting the interviews and analyzing the data. When the entire process is done well, the data informs the board planning session and the development of long-term goals and objectives.
By virtue of being interviewed by an outside consultant, people raise their level of thinking; some will even prepare for their interview. They want to be thoughtful and thorough; they want to share smart ideas which are representative of their best thinking. As a result, the quality of the feedback they provide in the interviews is generally high. In addition, they often report that they learned a lot from giving the interview, resulting in the internal stakeholders being better prepared going into the board planning session.
Thirdly, there’s the message your organization communicates when it elects to have its stakeholders (especially its external stakeholders and staff members) interviewed for their opinions. Having interviewed stakeholders, I can tell you that, nearly universally, people appreciate being asked for their views and many even find the process fun; this is so even though the process takes their time (30-60 minutes). In my experience, most are only too happy to give the time.
It is alarmingly rare how often external stakeholders get their voices heard outside of a process like this. In my experience, they want their voices to be heard and, regardless of their level of modesty, believe they have something to offer. So ask! When you do, you will deepen the organizational bond with those stakeholders, raise the quality of the planning conversations, and develop a strategic plan based on the views of your organization’s most valuable players.