How Stakeholder Engagement Can Serve Your Organization Beyond the Strategic Plan

Guest post by Tamela A. Spicer, M.A., Program Manager, Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy

The strategic planning process can be a big investment for any organization to undertake. Done well, it will take time and resources. Not only is the planning process a way for the board and staff to map out the future of the organization, it also provides an opportunity to engage key stakeholders more deeply in your work to help ensure the successful implementation of your plan.

Given that money and position represent power in our society, we may tend to seek input from only those in leadership roles or perhaps our largest donors. While these stakeholders can offer insights, the perspective may be limited.

“As you consider who to invite along on your strategic planning journey, you need to evaluate not only who can impact your success (positively or negatively), but also those that will be impacted by your work.”

Yes, that stakeholder list may include your largest donors as their gift can impact your success, but it may also need to include the city official who perhaps was offended by your board chair and therefore decided to consistently vote against every request your organization has brought to the council as you’re trying to expand your homeless shelter. Don’t underestimate the power of having your biggest opponent at the table in the planning process. Not only could their perspective be highly insightful, but it may provide the opportunity to redefine the relationship into one that can better serve your organization.   

Going Beyond Your Average Stakeholder

Part of your organization’s success includes those in your community who are impacted by the work you do. The strategic planning process provides the opportunity to elevate voices that are traditionally ignored. Whether it’s a homeless population in a shelter, youth in a reading program, congregates sitting in the pews, students attending a university, or season tickets holders for your orchestra, the perspective and insights of your organization’s end users can be vital to both inform the decisions and actions in your plan, and to ensure their successful implementation.

As John Bryson, one of the nation’s leading researchers on public management, reminds us, “the ultimate end of strategic planning should not be rigid adherence to a particular process or the production of plans. Instead, strategic planning should promote wise strategic thought, action, and learning on behalf of an organization and its key stakeholders” (Bryson 2011, p. 21). If we are working on behalf of our stakeholders, shouldn’t they have a say in what’s happening?

Engagement: Not all Stakeholders are Created Equal

You may be thinking, how am I going to get all of these stakeholders in a room for the planning retreat? Here’s the thing, when it comes to engagement, not all stakeholders are created equal. Consider the relationships in your life. We engage with people in different ways, at different times, and for different reasons. This holds true for our stakeholders in the strategic planning process.

There are many ways to engage stakeholders in the planning process. For those who are already connected to our organization, it may suffice to provide them an opportunity to complete a survey. If you are seeking to develop new relationships or perhaps need to gain the trust of someone in your community, inviting these stakeholders for a one-on-one interview or participation in a focus group could yield interesting insights while providing an opportunity for deeper connection.

Given the many options for engaging stakeholders it’s important to take the time to evaluate what is necessary for your planning process.

  • Lean into the expertise of your consulting partner, you hired them for a reason. Your consultant can help you determine how many stakeholders to invite at each level and also help you identify who the best candidates are for each engagement type.
  • Engage the board and staff in stakeholder evaluation. As you engage the board and staff in the process of stakeholder identification and management, you will deepen the networks and shared relationships for your organization.
  • Spend time understanding how best to manage each stakeholder group, and in some cases, each individual. The more influence, positive or negative, an individual has over your organization’s success, the closer you will want to manage that relationship. It’s important to manage power dynamics carefully, and protect vulnerable populations as you elevate those voices in the process. 

Regardless of the method you use to engage the various stakeholders for your organization, it’s important to remember that the strategic planning process provides an opportunity to foster relationships, new and old. It starts with setting clear expectations of what the engagement involves and how the information will be used. As you move through the planning process, continue to honor the insights so generously offered by your stakeholders with gratitude by sharing updates, and ensuring that stakeholders know how they can continue engaging in your organization’s success.

About the Author

Tamela Spicer, M.A, joined the Johnson Center in February 2016 and currently serves as a program manager. In this role, she specializes in board development, change management, fund development, strategic thinking, and is particularly skilled in working with faith-based organizations.

Previously, Tamela founded and served as the principal of a boutique consulting practice. She also served as a regional development director for The Salvation Army, regional director for the Arthritis Foundation, and executive director for Flat River Outreach Ministries. Tamela holds a Bachelor of Science in business administration and a Bachelor of Arts in religious education and theology from Aquinas College, as well as a master’s degree in communications from Spring Arbor University. In addition to her role at the Johnson Center, Tamela is a part-time faculty member in the School of Public, Nonprofit, and Health Administration at Grand Valley State University.


Bryson, John M. (2011). Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations, 4th edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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