Rise of the Stakeholder

Greg Cronin, MPA, CCD, CPRP
March 2022
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In this era of competition for discretionary dollars, most camps are going beyond conventional operating plans to provide additional resources for program improvement. Over the past decade, camp professionals have come a long way in recognizing the need to increase camp influence by cultivating internal and external relationships. As a result, camps now span the spectrum, from distributing information to perspective families to providing all stakeholders with media presentations that include topics such as:

  • Camp identity
  • Reputation
  • Employment
  • Community outreach
  • Values
  • Brand marketing
  • Transferable skills

While these changes are impactful for general information, the need to address complex camp issues — opening, reopening, health care, new construction, retaining quality staff, increasing community awareness, etc. — remains challenging. One way to help meet these growing demands is to cultivate new stakeholders while retaining current ones.

Camp professionals’ ability to effectively communicate the benefits of camp and the camp experience to stakeholders is critical. Through personal beliefs, attitude, commitment, and the desire to help campers continue their respective journeys, stakeholders can provide camps with important resources.

So what exactly is a stakeholder? In simple terms, this refers to someone with an interest, or “stake,” in a company, service, or project. Camps can go beyond their traditional bandwidth and increase relationship success by recruiting community members, interest groups, vendors, and/or people with a shared vision of camps’ future, both directly and indirectly.

Creating initiatives that can affect both internal and external behaviors set an important foundation for cultivating these supportive relationships. The easiest way to describe camp stakeholder groups is to divide them into three categories:

  1. Current campers, families, and staff
  2. Vendors, business partners, associates, and anyone else who works with you
  3. Potential new stakeholders

Campers, Families, and Staff

Current campers and staff are your biggest supporters. They already feel valued and will immediately recognize the benefit of increased camp connections. Existing camp-related clients are your key alliances, so be transparent about your plans for this summer and take the time to explain your operational intentions through personalized messages. This is where you benefit from the strong family relationships you have cultivated from past summers, and the payoff for your open communication with them is appreciation, trust, and loyalty. These connections form the foundation you will use to keep internal stakeholders informed. Examples of family and staff initiatives you might implement for 2022 include:

  1. Upgrade or create a parent ambassadors’ program. Add incentives for participation and increased enrollment results.
  2. Find a way to create a personal connection with each camper and staff member. Cultivate these relationships.
  3. Connect staff to campers via social media or Zoom-like opportunities.
  4. Create an interactive camp blog and make sure staff participate.
  5. Notify campers and staff what they can expect as part of the “move up” program as they grow older. Talk about new activities for each age group and the opportunities for those who increase their responsibility.
  6. Survey parents and staff by asking what their questions are leading into this summer.
  7. Go out of your way to explain the value of camp and what it looks like in 2022.
  8. Call people. It is exhausting, but make the effort.
  9. Think about the key learning transfers from camp and promote them. Be sure to include off-season opportunities for staff.

Outside Connections

Vendors, business partners, associates, and any others who already work with you — along with current campers and staff — are already your ambassadors to the outside world. People who know your program and understand your camp culture often instinctively promote your camp’s brand.

Their belief in you can lead to additional participation by others who identify with your message. Specifically, analyze stakeholder requirements and determine who is best suited to support what you are trying to do. Then set clear objectives for each project and let stakeholders know where they fit into the overall operational plan.

Each project or goal has a stakeholder lifecycle. The level of engagement for each contributor depends on need, so individual risk assessments must be done to evaluate plausible outcomes. This strategy is a good approach to use because it helps you to determine cost, logistics, feasibility, and purpose.

Potential Stakeholders

The last category is the hardest to identify because these individuals, associations, or companies may not yet have the benefit of knowing your business. The following guidelines provide a step-by-step process that will help you identify which stakeholders you need and why. The goal is to involve people or organizations who can introduce a better process, add to the community, provide support or financial backing, or provide resources that lead to a more efficient outcome.

Identifying an expanded operational project or goal to communicate to stakeholders gives you the opportunity to interact with other industries. Camp professionals already know they are accountable to their internal camp community, so commitment with like-minded people is not an issue. However, camp leaders are not always aware of external stakeholders who might make relationship decisions based on project need or subject relevance. An important task of stakeholder management is interpreting the nature of stakeholder expectations and weighing the appropriateness of the expectations against the values, mission, and professional norms advertised (Balser & McClusky, 2005).

To simplify this task, make a chart by putting a small circle inside of a bigger circle like a bicycle wheel. The small circle in the center represents camp. Now draw lines (spokes) from the small circle to the large circle with each spoke representing one stakeholder group. You can have as many spokes as you want, but each one must have a project connection. Choose your stakeholders carefully because they will have to support your philosophy. Create a different wheel for each project.

Potential new stakeholders might include:

  1. Contractors
  2. Politicians
  3. Software companies
  4. Marketing groups
  5. Financial institutions
  6. Referral services
  7. International agencies
  8. Regulatory agencies
  9. Professional services
  10. Entertainment industries

Categorizing Your Stakeholders

Deciding to seek additional avenues for people of interest as potential stakeholders is a great first step. Then the hard work begins. To conduct a vetting process and gain all the advantages it can bring, you must figure out who the stakeholders are, which of them need to be involved at what level, and what issues they may bring with them (Rabinowitz, 2020).

Within the stakeholder groups you identify, create a specific list by name of new or fringe stakeholders. For example, if your group is contractors, record specific contractor names. If you identify multiple names pertaining to your project, prioritize them into three categories, such as “primary,” “secondary,” and “key.” You can choose your own terminology, but keep your choices to three tiers.

The first tier is made up of people or organizations who stand to be directly affected — either positively or negatively — by your project. Be prepared, as you may find stakeholders with differing opinions who don’t align with your desired outcome. For example, a camp deciding to serve a meat substitute may find some campers (stakeholders) are pleased and others disappointed about the menu item.

Second-tier individuals or groups are indirectly affected by camp actions. In this case it may be a food service provider that must come up an alternative food item for the same price.

The last tier may actually have members from neither or both of the first two groups. The key factor is they are or will be important to camp. Obvious examples here are owners, directors, and frontline staff who need to be included because they work directly with campers.

All stakeholders need to know whether they can affect or be affected by camp. The more connections you provide in these relationships, the stronger their interest will be. Reach out to professionals in other related fields to see whether they might be interested in your program. Possibilities for consideration could include:

  • Mental health professionals
  • Community parks personnel
  • Environmental agencies
  • Zoom interest groups
  • Food service providers
  • Volunteer agencies
  • Retired sports figures
  • Musicians
  • Technology companies
  • Conservation groups

Set the Bar High

Because you are expanding your contacts to increase your camp community’s resources, think big. Who can help you?

And enter into these relationships with high hopes. About 10 years ago I was working as a director for a start-up day camp, and we were working with a very small budget. The owners decided to approach the local restaurant owners’ association and hospitals to see if they could help with camp. The end result for that first summer was that campers ate for free and off-duty nurses covered all camp days for health care.

Now that you have specifically identified the stakeholders in all three categories, put a plan in place to monitor them. Keep them satisfied by providing information that is representative of their need. Do a stakeholder analysis and prioritize what level of power and influence you want them to have on your project. Begin with primary stakeholders, or the top tier you identified earlier, then move to the second and third groups.

A mapping exercise can help you to figure out where each stakeholder fits into your camp vision.

  1. Create a labeled grid as shown in the figure.
  2. Write the name of each stakeholder for your current project on a separate sticky note.

Power/Interest Grid for Stakeholder Prioritization

Power/Interest grid

Adapted from Environmental Scanning — The Impact of the Stakeholder Concept, ICIS 1981 Proceedings, 20 (Mendelow, 1981).

Place each stakeholder in a quadrant according to power and interest. The people you identify as key stakeholders will likely be on the top right. Remember, you are dealing with stakeholders who can affect camp, so who on your chart will be most affected?

The position that you allocate to a stakeholder on the grid shows you the actions you need to take with them:

  • High-power, highly interested people (Manage Closely) — You must fully engage these folks and make the greatest efforts to satisfy them.
  • High-power, less-interested people (Keep Satisfied) — Try to connect with this group enough to keep them satisfied, but not so much that they become bored with your message.
  • Low-power, highly interested people (Keep Informed) — Adequately inform individuals in this group; communicate regularly to ensure no major issues arise. People in this category can often be very helpful with the details of your project.
  • Low-power, less-interested people (Monitor) — Monitor these people, but do not bore them with excessive communication (Rabinowitz, 2020), and recognize that their interest level could change.

As camp issues become more relevant, it can be challenging to satisfy multiple stakeholder groups, because they may have conflicting expectations. They may even have asks or want policies that camp can’t provide, which makes responsiveness an issue. On matters that are time sensitive, be sure to guide each stakeholder by influencing their expectations with sound reasoning and information that supports your camp’s mission. If you are consistent with decision-making over time, you will gain stakeholder trust — and this could lead to continued support after your initial project has concluded.

A big part of your success will come from the relational value you create in each stakeholder relationship. Your commitment level will be need-dependent, based on stakeholder expertise and involvement, and will fluctuate from one project to another. In other words, you must calculate the positive degree of value each stakeholder offers and coordinate this input with your existing camp resources.

Relational value refers to how much each person or company values a relationship. With camps, stakeholders can choose whether to help or participate, and they will likely decide if their association with you will cause an imbalance of relational value. Will their experience with you be positive or negative? The answer seems simple, but it can quickly become complicated by competing forces within camp organizations.

While most campers and staff would say their relational value to camp is high, some vendors or neighbors may have a different opinion. Loud noises coming from camp may be awesome for camp spirit but challenging for a neighbor who is working from home. In everyday life people have personal and professional expectations for each type of association, and camp is no exception.As already noted in the figure, each stakeholder has or creates a power/interest relational value — and this result must be evaluated by both sides. It is sometimes difficult when a person or team of people place a lower value on a relationship than you were expecting. This explains why people get their feelings hurt or actions from a business partner do not meet perceived expectations.

Building participatory or active stakeholder engagement is much like camp, because the actions in both are based on human behavior. For example, sometimes a camper will do or try something for one counselor and not another. People value the relationships that value them; stakeholders are more likely to spend their personal capital (authority, influence, time) where they feel good or know others are benefiting from a healthy experience. Camps are in the business of caring about how others feel, and relating to stakeholders is a parallel process in which you are demonstrating the relationship value.

Some businesses align easily with camp because of their professional purpose or product. Others may need help to identify a meaningful connection or reason to support your endeavors. Make sure you take the time to carefully explain who you are, what you stand for, and how the perspective stakeholder can provide an important resource for your camp in a mutually beneficial way. Outline how their participation creates crossover branding opportunities for them as well as your camp. This is the win-win aspect of stakeholder participation.

After you have created your stakeholder and relational process, examine it by answering a few questions:

  1. Did you forget anyone or an area that needs to be addressed?
  2. Did you identify them correctly?
  3. What are you doing to show them they are, or can be, positively affected by associating with your camp?
  4. How are you monitoring them to ensure they receive proper communication?
  5. What are you doing to gain stakeholders’ trust, and how is your relational value supporting your decision?

Research suggests that organizations that use a well-thought-out approach to stakeholder relationships are more effective than those who take a less-calculated path. Keep in mind that your goal is to retain or add additional resources so you can implement new programs, raise money, increase your influence, or accomplish whatever your goal happens to be. By being consistent in how you build stakeholder relationships, you can expect the information you share to help promote a unified experience that is both reliable and supportive of your camp’s ability to operate successfully this summer.

Photo courtesy of Camp Center Stage, Livermore, ME

References

Balser, D. & McClusky, J. (2005). Managing stakeholder relationships and nonprofit organization effectiveness. Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 295-296.

Mendelow, A. L. (1981). Environmental scanning — The impact of the stakeholder concept. ICIS 1981 Proceedings, 20. aisel.aisnet.org/icis1981/20

Rabinowitz, P. (2020). Community tool box section 8. Ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/participation/encouraging-involvement/identify-stakeholders

Greg Cronin, MPA, CCD, CPRP, was a camp director for over 30 years and has been conducting staff trainings since the early 1980s. He is a nationally known conference speaker, consultant, staff trainer, author, former American Camp Association (ACA) National Board member, standards visitor, and corporate trainer with more than 200 clients nationwide. Greg has trained thousands of camp staff on youth development and leadership. He has appeared on TV, radio, and Capitol Hill as a spokesperson for the camp experience and is a frequent contributor to Camping Magazine. Greg is featured in ACA’s By the Expert book series with chapters on leadership and staff training. To book Greg for staff orientations, trainings, and workshops, please call 703-395-6661 or email gregcroninva@gmail.com.


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