Report Watch: Engaging Stakeholders

Do Nothing About Me Without Me: This is the title of a just-released, toughly worded, “action guide” that calls on funders to embrace “stakeholder engagement.”  The report, released by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) in partnership with the Interaction Institute for Social Change, calls on funders to substantively engage stakeholders in their decision making, defining stakeholders in five categories:

  • Internal stakeholders
  • Grantees
  • Grantmaking peers
  • Local community members
  • Thought leaders / experts

I was pleased to see the emphasis on hearing from and listening to stakeholders.  I was, of course, also happy to see CEP’s work referenced in the guide: the report notes that our research on foundation strategy has shown that more strategic foundation leaders tend to do more to solicit feedback from stakeholders.  And “commission a Grantee Perception Report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy” is one of the report’s recommendations for “getting started” in the effort to engage stakeholders.

But I found myself worrying that the guide over-emphasizes “shared decision making”: it’s just not clear to me that this model typically works so well.  As a grantee, my experience is that the more individuals with authority in a funder’s decision making about a grant proposal we have submitted, the more miserable (and not in a way that ultimately proves helpful) and duplicative the process for us.  I should emphasize that we haven’t explored this issue directly in our grantee survey, though perhaps we should.  Yes, I get the whole “crowd-sourcing” thing, but that strikes me as relevant for a different kind of decision making.

So I would put the emphasis on gathering the data you need to make good decisions – and stakeholder perspectives are essential data. I think a funder can retain for itself decision-making rights about its funding and still hear from – and engage – stakeholders in a meaningful way.

Still, this new report from GEO is a clarion call for funders to reach out to their stakeholders and on that broad point I can only say, Amen.

In my next post, I will discuss the stakeholders for whom the stakes are highest: those whose lives a funder seeks to improve.

Phil Buchanan is President of CEP.

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