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The Art of Engagement: Cultivating Meaningful Community Relationships

Updated: May 1

Planning exercise
Invite your stakeholders to share their ideas and opinions to cultivate meaningful relationships.

Stakeholder, or community engagement as also often referred to, revolves around creating opportunities for those who have a “stake” in the work that you are doing to share their ideas, insights, and opinions about your current and future work. Using this data to inform or influence your organization's decisions for the future, your non-profit remains responsive to your stakeholders’ needs. 

In Plan to Engage. Don't Engage to Plan, we talk about the importance of nurturing relationships with key stakeholders to improve conversational results. Cultivate meaningful, positive and personal stakeholder relationships to increase participation, realize enhanced conversational outcomes, and improve community engagement processes.

Choosing the RIGHT Stakeholders

Your stakeholders vary by the work you do.  We examine the types of stakeholders and how to engage them in detail in our blog post Empowering Voices: Strategies for Meaningful Stakeholder Participation

The most popular stakeholder engagement techniques are online surveys, world cafés, focus groups, individual phone calls, or a combination of the above.  How you decide to engage your stakeholders varies by:

  • The purpose of collecting the information.

  • The type of information you wish to collect. 

  • The depth of information you need to gather.

  • The number of people you would like to gather information from.

  • Whether or not your results need to be statistically accurate.

  • The time and resources to design and complete the engagement process. 

  • The relationships you may (or may not) have with your stakeholders.

  • Your organization’s reputation in the community.

Designing an effective engagement process isn’t as simple as defining a goal, setting questions, and inviting people to participate. This rarely works.  

An effective engagement process builds on existing relationships with your stakeholders.  Inviting people to participate in your stakeholder engagement process unfamiliar with your organization, your Vision, Mission, and Values, your products and services, the quality of your team, or the outcomes you deliver daily will not set you up for success.  

Stakeholder engagement invites individuals interested in your organization to share diverse ideas and insights to shape the organization’s future. It’s essential to start your engagement process with a clear understanding of the “WHY.” Why do you want to do stakeholder engagement? What do you want to learn?  

A cautionary note: Participants will likely resist future invitations if the data collected from them is NOT used to inform planning. Know how the information will be used, communicate this to those you invite up front, and then follow through.

Ask Questions

The following steps (use your five W’s and How) help craft a solid stakeholder engagement process and plan: 

Ask the right questions.  Get impactful answers.
Ask the right questions to understand your stakeholder needs. Start with the 5W's and How.
  1. What do you want to learn from participants through this process? 

  2. Why is this information essential to gather?

  3. Who will be invited to participate? 

  4. When is the best time to host the stakeholder engagement process? 

  5. Where will we host the stakeholder conversations?

  6. How will the information gathered be used to make decisions?  

It is essential to spend time up-front debating these questions with your Executive Director, Board, and/or outside facilitator if you want to have a community engagement process that deepens relationships and invites ongoing participation from those who share their ideas.   

What is your experience with stakeholder engagement? What have you learned from the process of engaging others in conversations to shape the future of your organization?  Share your comments below.  


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