A nonprofit organization relies heavily on the relationships it develops with the people and groups in its community. As you try to build a successful nonprofit, you must identify which elements in your community to involve in your efforts: These are your stakeholders. Reach out to individuals, businesses and groups that share common interests and goals and can help you achieve your objectives -- their buy-in and engagement is essential for your nonprofit to achieve its mission. The three main goals of your engagement with your stakeholders are to develop a deeper understanding of problems, create new and better solutions and build more effective organizations.
Why Stakeholders Are Important
Most smaller nonprofit organizations rely heavily on dedicated volunteers and community members for much of their day-to-day programming and activities. Most also work on very tight budgets and rely on donations of goods and money from their stakeholders. You may have funding for a few full- or part-time personnel, but without the ideas, commitment and ongoing efforts of your stakeholders, not to mention their financial support, your ability to advance your nonprofit's cause is severely limited. Philanthropic groups and other nonprofits often are viewed as disconnected from what's going on in their communities, so it is essential that you make connections with the people in the community who are affected most directly by your organization's work.
Identify Your Stakeholders
Stakeholders are all the people who have an interest in your organization successfully achieving its mission. Nonprofits have both internal and external stakeholders. The first group includes those who already have made the commitment to work directly with your organization to achieve its goals, such as board members and volunteers. External stakeholders are those in the community who are impacted by your work -- the families who will be served by your food pantry, for example, or the senior care facilities with which you seek to partner to provide activity programs to their residents. The perspectives, concerns and buy-in of both types of stakeholders are important to your nonprofit program's viability.
Traditional means of reaching out to potential stakeholders include direct mail or calling campaigns, publishing information about your organization or its upcoming meetings in the local newspaper and making presentations to community groups. Consider using non-traditional means as well, particularly social networking sites. An analysis by the Public Relations Review notes that nonprofits increasingly place a profile and basic data on their sites, but as of 2008 are not taking full advantage of the interactive and information-sharing options offered by sites such as Facebook. The appropriate balance of traditional and web-based outreach methods is determined by the ages, professions and media preferences of your identified stakeholders.
Prioritize and Focus Outreach Efforts
Simply announcing your meetings and intentions is not sufficient to build a solid foundation for your nonprofit organization. Once you have identified your potential stakeholders, concentrate your efforts where they are most lucrative. The level of effort needed to inform and motivate your stakeholders can vary from one to another, and you seldom have the luxury of enough time or resources to reach all of them. Focus on priority targets -- those with the greatest level of access, influence and resources to move your nonprofit organization's programs forward. Communicate with your internal stakeholders on a regular basis to keep them informed and engaged. Establish strong ties to key external stakeholders, such as potential recipients of your services, community leaders who can influence local policy decisions and financial institutions known to support nonprofit programs. Do not overlook other nonprofit groups; collaborative programs often can reach more people and build more resources than a single nonprofit on its own.