Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.
Illustration by Yuxin Qin
Collaboration is a loaded word. Why should a nonprofit collaborate with their community or stakeholders? Where does a nonprofit begin the process of collaboration? How can an organization collaborate with stakeholders successfully?
Through collaboration with stakeholders, an organization can implement specified programs, leading to higher success. For nonprofit organizations, this means increased program outcomes leading to community awareness, funding from donors or grants, and increased employee morale. By listening to the community and responding to their needs, nonprofits can garner trust. Enhancing capabilities starts with social innovation and engagement with stakeholders. This leads to the ability to deliver social benefits and create a thriving social enterprise. Woodford and Preston list four main outcomes to validate stakeholder participation: helping organizations make informed decisions, facilitating stakeholder commitment and support, stakeholder education about the organization, and successful program implementation.
Where to begin
According to Nina Simon, “community” is defined as public stakeholders or beneficiaries that have a shared interest in the organization. The community consists of stakeholders, but who are the stakeholders? Elizabeth Castillo defines a stakeholder as “a person (or entity) who can affect and/or be affected by your organization.” Once an organization knows which community they are trying to engage, they can develop a strategic plan.
- Identify and analyze stakeholders: Stakeholders can be internal or external, primary or secondary (Castillo, 2020). List the organization’s stakeholders, group them, then analyze their impact on the organization and how the organization affects them. Clayton (2015) reminds us that stakeholders “may be individuals, groups, or whole organizations. The more widely you spread your net at this stage, the more robust your plans will be”.
- Be strategic: involve stakeholders in the participation plan from the beginning. Stakeholders are more likely to participate in collaboration initiatives when they are involved with the drafting of the strategy, and higher participation rates lead to thriving programs.
- Seek diversity, equity, and inclusion. “Achieving equitable participation…requires a commitment to hearing all voices, valuing all perspectives, and taking swift action to correct disparities of representation” (Barnes & Schmitz, 2016). Stakeholders that may require special accommodations should be taken into consideration to increase participation rates. Hold participation events at times and locations that are convenient for stakeholders and provide a support system when appropriate, such as childcare for those who may need it (Woodford & Preston, 2011).
- Include a former beneficiary on the board of directors. Including a former beneficiary on the board of directors will give the organization a more diverse perspective, allowing other board members to see where the organization is succeeding and where improvements could be made from an individual who has utilized the program.
- Use social media for positive engagement. Advertising fundraising events, posting educational videos, or creating engagement posts are all positive forms of communication that stakeholders can get involved with, opening the door for collaboration.
- Collaborate through field work and participatory practice. By getting involved with field work, the organization can engage community members and create an open dialogue to ask what needs exist. When the organization is able to provide the community with what they need, the program’s success rate will increase. Participatory practice includes the most common strategies: surveys, community meetings, focus groups and informant interviews (Woodford & Preston, 2011).
- Give stakeholders decision-making capabilities, responsibility and accountability. It is not collaboration if the stakeholder does not possess the ability to enact change within the realm of the organization’s programs. Seek to implement the idea of beneficiaries as co-producers and recognize their value (Cahn, 1997). When stakeholders are given decision-making power, it can help the organization make informed choices; when stakeholders are given responsibility, they are more committed to the organization (Woodford & Preston, 2011).
When these recommendations are put into action, nonprofits are able to successfully manage their programs, leading to opportunities for more grants and donors as well as mission fulfillment.
Lee Nix is a 2021 graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. She received undergraduate degrees from Appalachian State University, then began her career in the animal welfare field, and is currently managing a nonprofit veterinary clinic, SnipWell Spay Neuter & Wellness Clinic. She resides in Charlotte, North Carolina, and enjoys spending time with her husband and daughters, doing yoga, and meditating.