Managing Feedback from your Nonprofit Stakeholders

We’ve managed and guided lots of nonprofit projects to great results. But, we always see a little tension creeping in when it comes to the part of the process for getting feedback. Sure, you think you’re headed in the right direction with your marketing recommendations or a website design but what will your board of directors think? It’s a lot of pressure, and we see nonprofits struggling to know when to involve their stakeholders and how to handle their feedback, constructive or not. We’re going to dive into helping you find the balance between managing your nonprofit’s marketing project, with a strategic partner or within your nonprofit, and getting input from key people.

Defining Stakeholders

First, let’s define what we’re talking about when we mention stakeholders. It seems pretty straight forward at first: a stakeholder is anyone who has a stake or an interest in your nonprofit’s marketing project. Stakeholders are ultimately thinking, “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM). Your project will likely be most successful if it clearly demonstrates a benefit to the area of the nonprofit that your stakeholder most cares about. Managing these various interests, and making your stakeholders feel heard, is a huge part of project management.

If we break it down a little more, stakeholders in this sense are usually people who haven’t been included in the step by step development of the project, but are invested in the overall success of the end product. We’ve found that stakeholders are a much broader audience in the nonprofit world. They may be your supervisor or the executive director of your nonprofit. They could also be members of your board of directors, influential donors, volunteers who will be involved in the project or community members. This creates obstacles for gathering feedback that are pretty unique to nonprofits organizations.

Plan for Feedback in Your Timeline

To account for the wide variety of stakeholders in your nonprofit, it’s a great idea to build out time in your marketing project timeline where you’ll ask for feedback from those essential to getting the signal to move forward. The worst thing you can do is stall your project and delay your timeline because you found out that you need to run it by a variety of stakeholders late in the game.

As you’re preparing for your project kickoff meeting, thoughtfully decide when to loop in your stakeholders. Unsurprisingly (and unfortunately), there is no magic time to do this. Don’t lose hope – we suggest the “Goldilocks Way” of finding this window in the timeline. Make sure it’s not so early that the project hasn’t taken shape yet, but not so late that their feedback could throw you way off track. Try to find the sweet spot for your marketing project. And, if you’re at a total loss, ask around. Your vendors (if you’re outsourcing the project) or colleagues may have a good idea of when your stakeholders will be most receptive to the project and dedicate time towards compiling feedback.

Have this feedback time planned out from the beginning. That way your busy board of directors can review the project during a monthly meeting and your volunteers will know when to expect to give feedback. Your stakeholders may not be at your nonprofit office every day, so it’s important to account for that upfront, rather than let it sidetrack your progress later.

Frame the Discussion

“Here is the design of the new website. What do you think?”

This seems like a completely harmless question, but it could unleash a whole host of counterproductive feedback, especially if you’ve made thoughtful strategic marketing decisions to reach your nonprofit goals throughout the project.

Ask your stakeholders direct questions about the project.

Let’s say you’re asking your executive board for their feedback on the new homepage design of the website. Point out specific things they should think about. This will give you the structured feedback you need to keep the project moving along and avoid feedback like, “I’m not sure why, but I just don’t think this is the right direction.” Here are some examples of specific questions you could pose in this instance:

  • What do you think about the fonts in this design? Are they too bold? Too thin?
  • How do you feel about the way we’ve incorporated the brand colors throughout the design? Is there too much of any one color?
  • We’ve called out donations and volunteer applications on the homepage because it directly aligns with our website success metrics. Do you think these call outs will drive action?

Discuss actionable feedback.

It’s important to get your stakeholders’ real thoughts, not just their initial reaction. What you’re presenting will never be exactly what they were expecting if they haven’t watched the project progress step by step. Additionally, many stakeholders may have conflicting opinions that come out during these rounds of feedback. Take the time to internally discuss the direction of the project and frame your stakeholders’ mindset as they review.

Ideally, your stakeholders are providing quality feedback and not just criticism. Talk through their thoughts and get to the heart of any changes. Why don’t they like something? Is it just different than what they were expecting? What steps did you take to make that choice initially? Would it be a productive change to make? Answering these questions will allow you to walk away with clear next steps.

 

Managing stakeholder expectations and feedback is challenging. We tackle these issues with nearly every nonprofit client because it can be hard to navigate the different roles key people hold in your organization. It’s important to recognize these challenges from the onset of the project and plan to use feedback to keep your marketing project centered on the overall strategic goal.

 

Have you ever struggled to work with the various stakeholders in the nonprofit sector? Have any tips to add about gathering constructive feedback? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!