Defining Stakeholders

We talk a lot about “stakeholder engagement” in non-profit management, and in the corporate business setting as well. However, 75% of the people to whom I mention the term have no idea what stakeholder engagement means. So, let’s start with the basics:

Stakeholders, defined

In general terms, a stakeholder is anyone who has a vested interest in the success (or failure) of your program, service, organization, corporation. I also like thinking about it as “those groups without whose support the organization would cease to exist” (as defined by the Boston University’s Work and Family Research Network.)

Offline, or “real world” stakeholders

Who could these stakeholders be for a non-profit organization? Typically, your “offline members” are:

  • customers/clients
  • members
  • investors/ funders
  • collaborators
  • community leaders
  • volunteers
  • any other end user
  • politicians (if they relied on your group for part of their electoral success)

Cyber-stakeholders, online

Now, who are your cyber-stakeholders? Let’s evaluate the potential stakeholders, using the above-mentioned definition.

  • online groups that you have formed:   if you have a facebook page, a closed forum, a linkedin site, a .ning social forum, or any other moderated online group, they are your stakeholders. They joined because they are either current stakeholders or potential stakeholders, and thus are important when considering influence and participation in any campaign or cause. They are your cyber-members.
  • blog readers:   there is a case to be made that they are stakeholders because they are potential stakeholders (clients, collaborators, volunteers), but also a case to be made that they are inactive, passive stakeholders. You want to measure reader engagement. The Measurement Standard: Blog Edition gives you a pretty good overview of how to consider and measure blog readership engagement.  If, after considering these different measurement platforms you view your readers as engaged, then they are definitely stakeholders. (If they’re not, then you need to consider how to engage them…)
  • online communities that link with yours:  These are your cyber-collaborators. You should choose your links wisely and utilize them for maximum feedback of ideas, transparency with potential stakeholders and potential collaborations.
  • twitter or micro-blogging followers:  are they engaged? Do you have followers? If you do, then you have stakeholders. They are also part of your online member community.
  • online leaders/influences: these are your cyber-leaders. They are the ones that have large followers, are highly connected to relevant organizations and online groups, and are active in your online communities or blogging sites.
  • website members: these are your cyber-members. If you have registered website members or users, they are now your cyber-stakeholders, and some of them could also be your offline stakeholders. You want to be sure that you don’t forget the registered website/community members when considering new programs, evaluating the organization or any other transparency actions. These members, though not often the most active, are potential donors, volunteers, collaborators and influencers.
  • These groups of stakeholders, both offline and online, are your sounding board, your supporters and your best sources of information about the status of your organization. Just as they have a vested interest in the success of your organization, you have a vested interest in listening to them.

    Take the time to think about the list of groups that have a vested interest in the success of your organization, and consider them a resource to your organization. I’ll write more about listening to stakeholders and engaging them in further posts.

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