Greater Good Blog

How to Motivate Your Stakeholders to Tackle Big Challenges

Ginger Elsea
How to Motivate Your Stakeholders to Tackle Big Challenges

Tackling some of the world’s greatest challenges as part of a mission-driven organization can be overwhelming. Finding ways to motivate your key stakeholders and prevent them from feeling that they are faced with a too-daunting task can help you make progress systematically and effectively. This is true whether your stakeholders are employees, board members, grantees, or volunteers.

Motivating and empowering others was a theme that ran through the 2013 NGen event, which I recently attended. Three tips in particular caught my attention during the event, all of which are relatively easy to incorporate into your day-to-day interactions.

Connect and listen. Then lead. Allison Fine, senior fellow at Demos and the author of The Networked Nonprofit, talked about the importance of building meaningful relationships with your key stakeholders. This is not about hand-holding or stroking egos; rather, she suggested some simple steps you can take to make each individual feel like he or she is making a contribution while still moving forward, such as:

  • Realize that interacting with someone is not the same as really knowing them. Connecting on a personal level with your board members, for example, can help you understand what motivates them to contribute to the cause and thereby enable you to work together more effectively.
  • Engage in open conversations, but remember to close them. A lively debate on a particular topic, during which everyone is invited to share their opinions, can help build engagement as long as the leader effectively concludes the conversation by making a decision and explaining the rationale. This ensures that everyone feels heard, but also understands the solution and moves forward.

Right people, right roles, right goals. Mikaela Seligman and James Weinberg of AchieveMission described how management often is pushed aside by more pressing issues and tasks—even though good management is the bedrock of keeping others invested in the work. Without good management, employees may lose sight of how their day-to-day responsibilities contribute to the larger goal, and feel discouraged or disconnected from the mission. They described how strategic human capital management starts with asking yourself some key questions about your team, including:

  • Do we have the right people?
  • Are our people in the right roles?
  • Do their individual goals align with the goals of the organization?

Managers should take the time to consider these questions regularly and determine if and where your team or organization falls short. Through this analysis, you can start to identify the right steps to take to optimize performance.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of greater good. Dave Viotti, the founder and CEO of Smallify, an innovation capacity-building firm, led a session on design-thinking for social impact and offered tips for creative brainstorming. One of his key messages was the importance of approaching big tasks by outlining what initial steps you can take right away to get the ball rolling, thereby avoiding the paralysis that can come with embarking on something big, new, and daunting. In addition, he emphasized that people shouldn’t wait until they have a completely perfect idea, model, or solution before implementing it. Instead, come up with a prototype of your idea—whether it’s a new logo, website design, or fundraising strategy—and start collecting feedback on it so you can improve it. By rapidly developing prototypes of your ideas and solutions, you’re able to quickly learn, innovate, and grow. This approach can help you, your team, and your organization feel like you’re continuously making progress.

The challenges we chip away at as a sector are immense. But by putting some focus on the people who work on these challenges day to day, we can keep them energized and connected to the mission, and thereby set ourselves up for impact. What other approaches do you use to inspire others? Please share them in the comments below.

Ginger Elsea is a director with an extensive background in international development and social impact consulting. She provides strategy, evaluation, and implementation consulting services to a variety of institutional and family clients. She tweets from @gingerelsea.

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