It takes collaboration to successfully complete any community project so ensuring that everyone who is impacted, either positively or negatively, is engaged throughout the lifespan of the work is so important. Based on our extensive experience of communicating with stakeholders for both community and commercial projects, here is our guide to delivering effective stakeholder communications.
1. Create a stakeholder map and carefully consider how you will engage with each individual /group.
A simple but essential exercise at the start of any project is to create a list of all of your stakeholders. Not sure who to include on the list? Just think about everyone likely to have an interest in your project’s progress. Decide how you will communicate with them and how frequently they will want to hear from you. Keep in mind that while email updates can be an efficient way for you to share news with groups of people, some stakeholders might require a 121 relationship, nurtured through face-to-face contact.
TOP TIP: Create a communication plan that doesn’t just broadcast your project’s news, but ensures that each stakeholder feels seen and heard.
Define and categorise your stakeholder audience too – community stakeholders differ from those working in a business environment. For example, stakeholders in a commercial setting tend to understand the business rationale and know what activity is expected from them. Conversely, stakeholders for a community project have often volunteered their time for many years to make an impact – and they are likely to feel very passionate about it.
TOP TIP: Be sensitive to the history of a project – take time to understand what has happened “before your time” and acknowledge this when you first reach out to your stakeholders.
Members of the public are often considered a stakeholder within community projects, especially if the outcome impacts them personally. Engagement might involve asking members of the public to give their time to share opinions about a community action free-of-charge, so be aware of this, recognise it and show your appreciation for their invovement in your approach.
TOP TIP: Offering a small incentive is a good way to initiate engagement with the general public.
2. Create stakeholder toolkits
Need your stakeholders to cascade some information for you? Creating a stakeholder toolkit will make things easy for you and them! Include ready–to-go email content, talking points, images and direct links to reshare posts from social channels. Both you and your stakeholders will have confidence that information and news about the project are shared with consistency – and asking your stakeholders to share your message directly with their audiences is more likely to gain that wider engageemnt too.
TOP TIP: Avoid overloading your stakeholders with too much information in one go. Rather than sharing the whole toolkit, break it down into bitesize tasks. For example, one week provide your stakeholders with one LinkedIn post for them to copy, paste and publish, the next week, offer an article for their newsletter.
3. Bring people together
We’ve found that stakeholders in community projects or those that bring in leads from multiple business departments rarely work together on a regular basis, so we often kick-start a project by inviting all of the key stakeholders to a face-to-face meeting. It creates an opportunity for disparate stakeholders to meet each other, for colleagues to reconnect and more often than not, brings a sense of excitement and buy-in at the start of the project!
TOP TIP: Use an independent person to facilitate this meeting – stakeholders will feel they can share information and opinions in a safe place, knowing that this will not impact their day-to-day work.
4. Work hard to make stakeholders an integral part of the project
When people are listened to, they are more likely to take ownership in making the project a success. Consider workshops, small meetings, and even informal chats over coffee. Once engaged, look for continuing ways to show that you value the stakeholder input.
TOP TIP: For one of our projects, we invited stakeholders on-site and filmed them sharing their opinions about the value of the work being done. They felt heard, played a part in the story and we had a great piece of content that we could share more widely.
5. Don’t take it personally
Spending time writing the perfect piece of communication but not hearing back from your stakeholders might leave you feeling discouraged – but don’t be! There are a lot of factors at play here and it’s unlikely you’re one of them. People rarely respond the first time – sometimes the timing is wrong, or maybe the message doesn’t resonate, or more likely, they just didn’t read or see it!
TOP TIP: It’s often said that a message needs to be seen 7 times before action is taken, so don’t be afraid to repeat your information across multiple channels. Better to have an over-informed stakeholder than an under-informed one! And don’t always rely on email – pick up the phone for a chat, pop and see them or arrange a catch up virtually.
6. Demonstrate your experience
From day one of the project, give your stakeholders confidence in you by showing that everything you do is backed up by a strategy and project plan. At the end of the project, when you review how things went always be transparent about what worked well and where there are opportunities to do things differently.
TOP TIP: When you share updates, prove that you are sticking to the plan and be proud to talk about what you have achieved. Stakeholders will respond well to this show of leadership.
7. Think about the longer-term
Going the extra mile, being kind and helping people where you can, and generally making a great impression on stakeholders will not only help you with a project, it can open doors for the future. Maybe it will ensure you have support for your next project, or help you to secure your next opportunity… you never know when you will meet the stakeholders again.
TOP TIP: We all want to feel appreciated – so try to find a way of making every stakeholder feel like this. Don’t just generically thank them for their time. Be specific and make it personal.
With considerable stakeholder engagement under our belt, we have lots of other hints and tips that we would be happy to share with you. Just give us a call!