Stakeholders-5In the work I do with leadership teams in small and mid-sized nonprofits and start-ups, I find that there’s often a missed opportunity to leverage the knowledge and advice of funders, investors and Boards of Directors. These critical stakeholders have much to offer in the way of support beyond their financial investments. The key to leveraging that support is to proactively engage with them.

Admitting to a funder or investor that there’s an issue can be difficult. You want them to feel comfortable that their money is well-invested, and that the organization is in good hands.  But here’s the thing. Ignoring an issue or waiting too long to ask for help is a waste of valuable time and resources – both yours and the stakeholder’s.

Funders, investors and Boards of Directors have a stake in wanting the organization to succeed. And the individual members of these groups have knowledge, experience and a variety of skills that they are willing to share to help achieve that success.

Here are some tips on engaging and partnering with your stakeholders.

Communicate early and often.  Open, honest communication is key to building a strong relationship. Keep your stakeholders informed – and not just when there’s a crisis. Communicate with them on a regular basis to let them know what’s going well, and where you anticipate there might be an issue.

Ask for help – beyond the dollars. Funders, investors and Boards are a great resource of knowledge, skills and connections that they are typically happy to share to help support the organization. Do research or meet with them personally to learn their areas of knowledge and skills. Demonstrate an interest in engaging with them beyond their financial support.

Remember that strong relationships are built on trust and integrity. Above all, be honest and forthright with your stakeholders. If you hide issues or lie about product capabilities or organizational performance they will eventually find out. We’ve all seen what happened in the Theranos debacle when founder Elizabeth Holmes lied to investors about her blood-testing technology. Once you’ve lost that trust you may never gain it back.

Successful businesses are built on good relationships – with customers, with employees, with vendors, and most certainly with stakeholders.