Hearing Voices

Nonprofit leaders - take a minute to answer the following questions:

  • How well do you know your stakeholders? I mean REALLY know them — their values, priorities, motivations, and reasons for supporting or using the services of your organization?
  • How much do your stakeholders know about your agency’s work? Are they not only aware of the organization’s current state, but also its future direction? How involved are they in furthering your mission?

Recently, the Armstrong McGuire team spent time deliberating the future of the nonprofit sector with a number of grant makers and change leaders. Among many great topics, we discussed multi-year funding, collaboration, coalition-building, and deliberate associations. What these concepts have in common is they require a two-way (or three- or four-way) dialogue that includes the voices of many constituent groups —  funders, staff, volunteers, partners, boards, service recipients — and even the community-at-large.

Nonprofits can no longer abide by the “build it and they will come” mindset. More than ever, funders want to be part of creating a program, not just the recipient of after-the-fact reports. Citizens are engaging in advocacy and activism efforts that were previously left to politicians and lobbyists. And millennials have changed charitable giving, choosing to focus on issues rather than organizations.

So, how did you answer the questions above? If you’re not TRULY connecting with key stakeholders, it may be time to assess your organizational strategy. What feedback mechanisms do you have in place? Are you engaging funders and clients in strategic planning efforts? Does your major gifts or capital campaign include a campaign preparedness study? Who provides input as to whether a program is added, changed, or retired? Is your agency leading advocacy efforts or merely participating in them?

Constituents are demanding their voices be heard. They want to be part of setting direction, not just funding the programs and services presented to them. While this may result in a cultural shift, if we’re smart, those of us in the nonprofit sector will listen.

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