Sunday, January 23, 2011

Why should your stakeholders care?

Did you forget something?
 Do you ever get the feeling there's something you've forgotten? Something big, like you left the kettle boiling when you work or you forgot your spouse's birthday and you think it's today?

There's one of these in non-profit marketing. It's forgetting to ask yourself what your stakeholders, volunteers, donors and funders want. Yes, what they want. Not what your organization wants.

Sounds like a dumb question, doesn't it. After all, by now your non-profit should know what these people want. But think about it. When was the last time you ever asked them? If you're like most, your true answer will be that you haven't asked for a while. For many, a long while. In fact, some haven't asked since their organization started.

That's bad for a couple of reasons. First, how do you know you're still delivering what your stakeholders want? If you don't ask, you won't find out. Second, things change. Your stakeholders may have lost interest in you, they may have found something better to be associated with or perhaps the issue that led to your creation has changed.

Here's a trick. Every once in a while ask yourself this. Why should your stakeholders care? When you start a new project, ask. When you publish your next newsletter, ask. When you look at your web site stats (which I hope all of you do), ask.

Be brutally honest with yourself and with your team. If you, the people who are in charge of marketing and communications at your non-profit, can't honestly come up with a very good reason why people should care than chances are your stakeholders won't give two hoots about it.

This brings up the question as to what to do if the answer is negative. One hospital exec once told me it didn't matter whether stakeholders wanted what the hospital sent them or not. What mattered was that they got it. The exec was worried that asking this question would invalidate what the hospital and its foundation were already doing. To an extent, the exec was right. Most of their activities would not have passed muster. But it is better to know this and change than it is to keep cranking out stuff no one cares about and see your fortunes slowly sink into oblivion.

Here's another trick. Ask your stakeholders. Don't be afraid to do a quick online survey or a focus group to get a frank answer to this questions straight from the horse's mouth. Through this, you'll be able to get insights into what your stakeholders really want.

Remember, in this day and age, what matters to your stakeholder is what they want, not what you want. You must create something they need -- a community, a way of thinking, a happy ending, whatever. The key to marketing is to listen to what your stakeholders tell you and then give it to them in spades.

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