Voice of the Stakeholder (VOS)
Another Strategic Business Tool Supporting For-Impact Organizations
Definition: Both at the broadest level of operations and the most detailed level of operations, not-for-profit organizations must understand their stakeholders’ needs, wants, and wishes. Some refer to them as clients, customers, staff, citizens, patients, members, and/or donors. I like to refer to them as stakeholders. My definition of a stakeholder is as follows:
- Those who are impacted.
- Those who invest.
- Those who partner and collaborate.
- Those who are served.
- Those who lead.
- Those who help us deliver our mission.
Understanding stakeholder needs, wants, and wishes is not a license to shift your organization’s vision, stretch your mission, or attempt to be all things to all people. When we become unfocused, we often make poor strategic choices. After all, mission creep is a slippery slope and trends toward poor overall performance.
Objective: Your goals for discovering and assessing stakeholder feedback by using a VOS tool is an integral part of your role in positioning your organization in the not-for-profit market and staying abreast of your strategic planning, ongoing market positioning, and competitive value in your community or marketplace. You simply cannot afford to grow blindly.
What you measure: Five types of proactive stakeholder-related information are useful. Create a VOS initiative!
- How well your current services meet your stakeholder needs.
- What stakeholder needs exist (within your mission scope) that you are not currently meeting (market opportunities)
- What offerings stakeholders feel are unnecessary
- How your offerings compare to your competition (both for-profit and not-for-profit)
- What your world-class levels of performance are (benchmarking)
Dos and Don’ts: Activate your plans in ways that provide you with the most valuable information.
- Don’t approach a single constituent group with a solo program bias. For instance, don’t just ask donors about giving habits. Ask donors about everything your organization stands for. Stakeholders wear different hats,
and quite often more than one hat, in relationship to your organization. Cast
a broad VOS net that reaches many.
- Do create an annual market survey plan that secures feedback from all stakeholder groups. Dare to be comprehensive.
- Do seek both broad-based information and detailed, focused information.
Don’t be afraid to drill down.
- Do employ a broad array of VOS survey or feedback tools: questionnaires, online surveys, one-on-one discussions, focus groups, feasibility studies, post program snapshot surveys, thank-athons (where you thank donors and seek their feedback), staff input sessions, community dialogue sessions, etc.
- Feedback is only as good as your analysis. Include key board members, members of the community, staff from different departments, and others when deciphering responses. Embrace naysayers and contrarians.
- Use your information in multiple ways: to make improvements, to sunset initiatives, as boasting points in foundation proposals, and as strategic planning fodder. Embrace knowledge, don’t fear it.
- Don’t just take information from your stakeholders, use these actions to increase dialogue and communications. Always provide an outcome report back to those who participated. This engenders deeper and broader constituent support and allows you to go back later for more questions, using these groups as strategic knowledge resources.