Monday, November 29, 2010

Create a relationship with your stakeholders

This won't work
These days, it is more important than ever to keep your stakeholders and clients close to you. There’s more competition than ever for their attention. Other charities have their hand in your donor’s pockets. Other non-profits are asking them to volunteer. Other social service agencies are taking your government funding and the clients that go with them.

The place to start is with how you think. Yes, you. Yes, how you think. Most non-profits I know have a very “retail” point of view when it comes to stakeholders and clients. It is usually transaction-based. Like a turnstile, the clients come and go. You communicate a message, they receive and process it. End of story and on to the next one. The challenge with this point of view is that it is a micro view of the world. A transaction is a good measuring stick for any non-profit, but not in and of itself.

What you need to do is think of your customers and stakeholders in terms of relationships. It is not the individual transactions they have with you that matters. It is the long-term relationship they have with you that counts. So, instead of asking whether they went through the turnstile, the real question is have they been through before and whether you can make them come back.

This may seem like semantics, but it has as real financial edge. There’s an old business rule that says it is easier and more effective to sell an existing customer than a new one. Study after study has proved this to be true. The same applies to your relationship with your stakeholders and clients. The real value is your long-term relationship with them.

And that is why most non-profit communications program fail to deliver results. They are very often transaction-based. A prime example is the quarterly newsletter. It is sent out quarterly usually because of budget concerns – monthly print newsletters are too expensive. But your stakeholders don’t actually think in terms of financial quarters. They think in terms of their own set of values and judgements. And the quarterly print newsletter doesn’t work for them. The reason is that the newsletters rarely connect the pieces of the non-profit’s communications program together. They are stand-alones, that have look and feel of a turnstile.

Now, consider what the relationship theory would do. On frequency, the theory would say that the number of newsletters should be determined by what the relationship needs. Quarterly, monthly, even weekly at times. On content, it would hold that the newsletter needs to promote long-term engagement, and that would mean tying the newsletters together and tying them into the other communications pieces to make a whole product.

And if you think that flexible approach to frequency will bankrupt you (Egads, a weekly print newsletter?), think again. Email newsletters can take up the slack. I recommend a quarterly or even yearly print publication backed up with email newsletters based on the frequency the relationship demands. That means sending emails monthly, or on special occasions, even weekly (like sending a special email to wish them a happy new year on December 31st).

Relationships are where you want to be. It will deliver more value, likely save you money over the long-term and give you greater stakeholder power.

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