How to maintain stakeholder relationships throughout change

Guiding your charity and its stakeholders effectively through a period of change is a valuable skill. In challenging times especially, when external pressures might force charities to alter or adapt their services, knowing how to keep stakeholders engaged and supportive is vital.

Here are five tips on how to bring stakeholders – both internal and external – along with you during a time of change for your charity. 

1. Be transparent

Stakeholders will respect your honesty in discussing the challenges your charity is facing. Hearing an honest assessment of the charity’s situation may even prompt them to feel more invested in the charity’s survival, or more informed about how they can use their specific skills to help.  

Transparency can also help to build trust among stakeholders, for it reassures them that they will be informed of important developments as they happen.

Ways of being transparent include: 

  • Sharing relevant data that makes clear the challenges the organisation is facing. Seeking to hide or obscure unfavourable data can alienate stakeholders should they feel they are being – or have been – kept from knowing the truth of a situation.
  • Communicating clearly and punctually. Build trust with your stakeholders by showing them, through your actions, that you intend to keep them informed.
  • Publishing annual reports and impact reports. Documents like these are not only crucial aspects of charity governance; they also help foster trust with stakeholders and an impression of dependability, professionalism, and transparency. 

2. Link changes to your charity’s mission and story

Change can be inevitable. However, there are ways of making it easier to digest for stakeholders, including if there is a risk of it coming as a shock or being poorly received.

When communicating change to stakeholders, both internal and external, aim to build the change into the broader story of your charity. Try to contextualise it, and to present it as the logical next step forward towards the charity’s mission. Doing this will help to remind your stakeholders of the values you share and communicate to them the reality of how the decisions being made – including the difficult ones – are always in the interest of enabling your charity to continue its valuable work. 

An example of this kind of communication in action could be that of a charity announcing to its stakeholders that it is scaling down its operations and closing one of its food banks, shelters, or programmes. The charity in this instance could do well to explain the pressures they are facing, and to emphasise that in order to continue delivering their various other services, the only option is to scale down, at least temporarily. By contextualising the change, explaining the reasons behind it, and reminding stakeholders of the impact they are determined to continue delivering, the charity is likelier to bring stakeholders along with it through this period of upheaval. 

3. Offer stakeholders a voice

To keep stakeholders feeling engaged during a time of transition or change, it is important to ensure and to remind them that they have a voice and that their input is welcomed.

Stakeholders typically understand that not all their feedback and ideas can be implemented. However, they will likely be happy to know that their perspectives are appreciated and may help to inform the next steps of the charity in which they are invested. 

Ways of giving stakeholders a voice include: 

  • Specifically asking for their feedback, for example, via an online survey or form that can be embedded in a newsletter or email
  • Engaging with them promptly and helpfully via social media
  • Involving them in events, both online and in-person, and ensuring they have opportunities to engage with the charity and the people who work and volunteer there
Ultimately, change offers charities the opportunity not only to bring their stakeholders with them through periods of upheaval, but potentially even to strengthen their stakeholder relationships during these times. Even unwanted or otherwise difficult change can provide a means of connecting or reconnecting with stakeholders, and of reemphasising your charity’s mission.

 

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