Stakeholder Engagement: The Art of Sharing Success

Husky sled-dogsWhat exactly is stakeholder engagement, in the context of booster clubs? We’ve written before about how booster clubs need to consult with their closest stakeholders, such as parents and financial supporters. Booster clubs are also affected by the decisions of other groups, such as school boards. Those institutions and their administrators are also stakeholders.  We’ve tweeted a few stories recently about that other type of stakeholder, and in this article we’ll discuss school administrations, rival booster clubs, and disc golfers.  These scenarios provide teachable moments and practical advice about how to engage stakeholders by sharing success and considering their problems your own.

The Beauty and the Beast and the Peacemaker

Booster clubs can compete for a piece of the pie, or they can work to make that pie bigger. We’ve written before about booster clubs treading on each other’s territory. In a recent story, we found a pair of booster clubs who shared, quite literally, the same turf. Here’s how they started as rivals, and how they could come to view each other as stakeholders.

Football helmet and cheer pompomsCheerleaders have always been the Belle to the Beast of football games, a graceful break from a game full of grunts and thunks. In Tonawanda, PA, cheerleaders perform at home games during half time. Together with the football team, they draw a crowd of supporters that are ready to feed the fundraising efforts of both groups. Yet according to the Tonawanda News, the booster clubs have squabbled over vending rights at home football games.

“We are racking our brains thinking of things to sell that football isn’t,” said one cheerleading parent. Instead of a direct discussion, the dispute went through the impersonal wringer of athletic boards. The end result was more arguments between top booster members with little resolution.

The conflict is based on the false premise that the cheer squad and football are rivals with competing interests who must fight over a share of a small fundraising pie. However, the booster clubs could be seen as stakeholders, symbiotic entities with common goals. Both groups already share the same audience, field and school. They share success. If the football team hits a winning streak, attendance goes up. If the cheer squad wins state with a new routine, lots of supporters will want to come see it. Where? At the home football games, of course. So, clearly, these groups want each other to succeed. How can they do that? For one thing, they need a little ingenuity to make that pie bigger. Maybe the problem for the cheerleading squad isn’t finding new things to sell. Could they work with the football team to sell more of existing items? Could they pass a hat after halftime? We’d direct them to our list of 93 fundraisers.

Worse than lack of ideas, however, are the self-defensive slips of individual booster representatives who forget momentarily about the big picture. Sometimes, you need a peacemaker.

“Years ago,” said Dale Zdrojewski, one of the football booster parents, “we had similar [fundraising] issues between soccer and football. I ended up being the mediator between the two parties, and now we haven’t had an issue in more than 15 years.” We don’t know if Zdrosjewski’s mediation efforts led to a resolution. The ideal strategy is to keep a dialog open continuously. Couldn’t booster clubs with so much at stake in each other’s success meet more often? Isn’t it okay to communicate even before problems arise? Peacemakers and mediators often work best in preventive doses.

The People vs. the Principal

Administrators and booster club board members can work well together, but it requires them to build a relationship over time. For example, it’s good to invite administrators to shows, games, meetings, and award nights. If they gain a better understanding of your club, they’re more likely to feel like stakeholders in its success. By the same token, it’s a good idea to send booster members to school board meetings. If you can understand the challenges of an administrator’s job, you’ll be better prepared to create win-win solutions for future problems.

sceneryWhat happens when administrators and booster club board members are NOT on the same page? One possibility: a school principal throws away $20,000 worth of a booster club’s equipment during summer vacation. That’s  what happened to a Theater booster club in Richmond, VA, according to The Berkshire Eagle news service.

Principal Young had received a warning from the fire marshal that the theater equipment needed to be removed from back stage. When notified, the booster club tried to set up a meeting, because they didn’t have a good place to put the stuff. Young cancelled at the last minute.

“[Principal] Young said she personally reviewed the materials and gave instructions as to what should and should not be saved.”

The core issue here is not who was to blame for having the equipment thrown in the trash. The real problem is that neither side viewed themselves as stakeholders in common objectives. To put it another way, each party failed to view the other’s issue as their issue. What if the booster club had seen the fire violation as their problem, and organized volunteers to strike that set? Even though there wasn’t a permanent storage space available, a temporary one might have been found. What if the principal had seen the theater props as a precious resource, instead of a pile of trash? If she truly valued the theater’s productions, she might not have been comfortable overseeing it’s dismantling. Either way, it’s a disaster we all want to avoid.

We can start by strengthening dialog through the framework of stakeholders. When issues arise, from leaks in storage units to notices of fire violations to budget changes, it’s important that that disparate parties make each other stakeholders. “Here’s my problem, in detail, and here’s how it’s your problem, too. How will this affect you? Let me know how I can help.”

Asking Permission, With Town Hall Style Meetings

Ever hear the phrase “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission?” That might work for teenagers, but it’s a bad idea for institutions dealing with stakeholders and large financial decisions. Asking permission would be the better course of action for booster clubs dealing with decisions that affect donors, and for schools making decisions that affect booster clubs. Consider this example of  NOT asking for permission:

Disc in bush“Milton High School’s Cross Country Booster Club isn’t happy about a proposal to add a disc golf course to the running trail its members have spent nearly $100,000 to develop and maintain.”

 Disc golf presents a hazard to runners with 200 gram plastic discs flying 30 miles per hour across their paths. Even worse, the school didn’t discuss the plan with the booster club before it submitted it to the school board.

“The organization’s board said they learned [from the school board] on Oct. 18 about a plan to place a disc golf course over portions of the current running trails that are used for daily practice.”

Why would a booster club have to learn about an overhaul of their facilities after the plan was already submitted? To push the plan through, the school started with “the various Fulton County School Board levels that are required for work on School property for these types of project[s].” That is, the schools plunged into the bureaucratic process of approval without consulting  stakeholders like the booster club, the existing financiers and users of the site. It’s like learning about your divorce from a summons instead of your spouse.

Stakeholder engagement is not a legalistic process. It’s organic. In towns across this country there’s usually a system to organically integrate feedback on all sorts of plans. Take land use changes, if someone wants to change the zoning of a lot, or put in a radically new business, they usually have to put up a huge sign advertising a town hall meeting. Feedback is gathered and integrated into a revised plan. Still more meetings are held to discuss the revisions. Yes, the process can drag on. In the end, however, it bears fruit because it allows for stakeholder inclusion, and minimizes the number of people who are unsatisfied with the change.

Who are your booster club’s stakeholders? How do you engage them (or not!)? Please send us your stories, subscribe for future posts, and share this article with booster members.






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