Relationships are the universe of affiliations and associations that give an organization authority and the capacity to advance its agenda or shape behavior change.
While some organizations hold great sway among policy makers or elected officials, others might be more influential with specific groups of stakeholders (moms, teachers, pet owners, or environmentalists, for example). At the end of the day, we need to be mindful of the constituencies who pay the closest attention to our actions, and the partners who can best help advance our common goals. Success depends on identifying your base, being attentive to their ever-evolving priorities, and knowing how to communicate honestly with them, at the right times and in the right ways.
There are many ways to monitor and manage your institutional relationships. Larger, wealthier organizations often rely on opinion research to measure the ebbs and flows of their stakeholders’ thinking. But for even the smallest community nonprofits there are many ways to creatively and affordably track your reputational health. Think about donor surveys, one-on-one check-ins with key partners, and routine pulls of website data or social media metrics.
When you decide the time is right to act boldly or in ways that might test the integrity of your relationships, do so with clarity of purpose. Be prepared to proactively explain the choices you are making, repeatedly if necessary, and to fully own the confusion those choices may cause for some. Avoid panicking whenever you hear dissent.
Stakeholder pushback and disagreement are normal for any complex organization. Sustaining strong relationships often requires a thick skin. You will be surprised by how resilient well-managed relationships can be.