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 Stakeholders For Beginners

How To Work With Stakeholders For Beginners

Apr 27, 2022

Share the wealth...and the responsibility. 

You know you’re different, right? 

You’re not just an entrepreneur…a business owner. You don’t have the luxury of bossing people around or a cophers overflowing with cash as many big businesses do. 

You’re not just a philanthropist… a non-profit. You don’t have a list of donors a kilometer long waiting to give to your cause or a board to prop you up financially when times get lean.

You are a social entrepreneur….a change-maker. You have so many people to please and so many people depending on your performance and you making things happen.

And…as a social entrepreneur, you are somewhere on a very, very broad spectrum of non-profit to for-profit. A social entrepreneur may have up to 10 ten different stakeholder groupings depending on where they call in the non-profit to for-profit spectrum (Holt & Littlewood, 2016). That’s a LOT of people to try to please.

Yet, there are many advantages of not fitting into a box. 

One advantage is that you can take “best practices” from both the non-profit and for-profit worlds, as well as from both models of social enterprise…socialist and capitalist. 

Regardless of where you are in the world, you have a “menu” of ways and methods to choose from to get started or to try when you get stuck. Of course, there’s your own inspiration, the guidance from your Spirit. But, it never hurts to ask or look to others to see what’s working and what’s not working. 

But, where to start?! 

In this post, I’m going to share some best practices for working with your stakeholders. I talk more about what stakeholders are in the post  "How To Work With Stakeholders For Beginners".

In this context, stakeholders are all the people (think) you need to get your social enterprise off the ground, keep it going, or get it to a new level.

“Time, Talent, and Treasure"

This comes from the non-profit world.

There are essentially 3 ways in which any person gives to others: their time, their skills and natural giftings (talent), and their treasure (money/financial).

We are all “called” to give in different ways to different people and causes. When I say “called,” I mean that it is often put on someone’s heart as part of a Divine calling.  They are compelled to do or be something to or for someone else…even if they just met them for the first time. That really does happen. I know from personal experience.

This is all well and good. But, let’s look at this from a business perspective.

Each person had a finite (not infinite) amount of each (time, talent, and treasure) with endless responsibilities of their own. Pretty much every human is depending on the time, talent, or treasure of many, many others.

Yes, the altruistic way to think is that we all live in an endless abundance of time, talent, and treasure. The truth is that the majority of people don’t live as they do. It is more common for us to live from a place of scarcity with a poverty spirit. I’ve seen even extremely wealthy people (wealthy in terms of lots of money) live like they are financially broke. Some are mostly broken in spirit and it pours into other parts of their lives. Some grew up poor and realize it can all be taken away at any moment.

Even me…I have to remind myself all the time: “I have an abundance of time and energy for all I am called to today.” I’ve been carrying around a post-it in my wallet since 2019 with this written on it. I have another post-in on the wall in my kitchen where I always sit down my bag to drag out my computer.

The practical balance is this: Just as you are pulled in so many directions in your social enterprise (not to mention personal and family life), so are your stakeholders and supporters. They may be your biggest fans and love everything about you and what you’re doing. That doesn’t mean they are not also pulled in a hundred different directions.

It is SUPER important to keep this “truth” in mind when relying on people to support you or your cause.

Here are some tips:

1. Be strategic about who you ask for what. If someone has a special gift for bookkeeping (talent) and is willing to help you set up your accounting (time), don’t ask or expect them to also give money (treasure). If they are compelled by their Spirit, that’s great. But don't expect it. 

Alternatively, if they are giving financially (treasure), don’t lean on them to also run a fundraiser (time). Especially if someone is compelled by giving treasure, do not expect a long (or any) phone call. Yes, you have great stories to share! But, if they are not performing, they are not making money…in part…to support you.

IDEA: Start a Google Sheet (g-sheet) or spreadsheet listing all of your partners in the first column. Create 3 more columns. One each for time, talent, and treasure. For now, start by adding an X or Y for “Yes” for each person in the ways they are giving. If you like colors, use those in the cells. 

Later, you can get descriptive about the details of their giving. If someone is in all 3 columns (giving time, talent, and treasure) even if it’s your Mother!, be wary of expecting or asking more from them. Instead, focus on adding new people to fill the areas that are lacking.

2. Be aware of the scope of practice. The internet police are out there. There are lots of people who give advice without qualification. That’s okay for some people, I guess. But, just as you wouldn’t ask your doctor to help you file your tax return, you wouldn’t want to ask someone who is not an attorney (or at least extremely experienced in governance in your type of business in your country or state) to review your legal or governing documents.

IDEA: Add one more column to your g-sheet, just after Name with Occupation. Then, if you have a specific need for certain skills, you can ask the person with this scope of practice, assuming they are not already giving a ton of treasure. 

If the person is already giving treasure, be very careful with their time. Ask them for a specific amount of time or a specific project. They have ongoing responsibilities so having time parameters will help them decide if they can fit it in.

3. Spread the responsibility. In the non-profit world, there is the concept of an “anchor partner”, where one person/couple or a very small group of people give a larger sum (treasure) consistently, essentially “anchoring” the organization. 

Let me ask you: What happens when the anchor on a boat breaks loose? The boat is adrift. 

From a business perspective, a business is much more valuable if it has many customers each generating less revenue versus a few primary customers generating more revenue. Why? Because the risk is spread out.

If you have started out with a major donation or investment, that is a wonderful gift! If you have people who feel called to be your anchor partner, that is also a gift. But, do not rely solely on them. This is a huge risk in any organization. What if one of them gets sick or dies? If they are married, are you going to expect the devastated spouse to keep the donation coming? What if they don’t have a spouse or the spouse isn’t the one who rights the checks? What if their business is in jeopardy? 

IDEA: Look at large, consistent gifts as a buffer or cushion while you do everything you can to find other partners and diversify your income sources. Do not rely on them indefinitely. Make a plan and set goals to support your revenue needs without that anchor or “primary customer.”

Sharing the wealth…and the responsibility among the stakeholders in your organization is about enabling people to give as they are compelled, but not burning them out. It’s common for us to get to a place of burn-out and desperation when one thing after another doesn’t go the way we hoped. 

However, we must rise above and know where our Help comes from…and it’s not all from one or a few humans. This is not to say that miracles don’t happen, because they do! I am living proof! But, it’s important to manage our social capital wisely. 

If you’re looking for more guidance in this (or any) area of your social enterprise, journaling gives the incredible gift of insight. Download your Free 5-Day Promoted Journal here! If you have an acute area of concern and are seeking answers, download your Free Quick Cards here. This is an excellent resource for receiving mid-crisis clarity.

I talk about ways to meet other social entrepreneurs and get coaching in Episode 9 of the Avant-garde Entrepreneur Podcast. Want to know more? Start with Episode 1!

If you'd like to talk further about working with stakeholders, connect with me on LinkedIn!