Clients to Constituents to Stakeholders

I found another one!

Another inspiring set of examples, that is, for how social service organizations can effectively integrate organizing and leadership development into their work, transforming their organizations and the lives of those they serve.

The report is a project of Leadership for a Changing World, in itself a pretty exciting initiative, of the Ford Foundation, that grants $115,000 to each of 17-20 leaders/groups that are doing significant work in their communities but are seldom known on the national stage. LCW also brings these folks together so that they can learn from each others’ leadership journeys. The organizations featured in this report are awardees.

One of the best insights that I gained from this document is their definition of ‘stakeholder’, defined as someone who ‘considers the organization his/her own’. It made me think about how much nonprofit organizations need stakeholders, people who not only care about the issues around which an organization is working but also about the organization’s internal development and survival. In other words, we need leaders to advance our interests/causes, but we need stakeholders to advance us, to care about our fundraising and strategy and morale and reputation and all of the other imperatives that drive social service organizations. And the more stakeholders who feel responsible for that success, the better.

I also really liked CASA de Maryland (yes, them again–I told you they were awesome!) Executive Director Gustavo Torres’ (super cool human being) quote, describing the organization’s client stakeholders as their “co-authors of justice”. Thrilling imagery.

A few other key points: because leadership requires a space in which to grow, nonprofit organizations need to be ready to step back to allow client stakeholders to step forward. How true. How often do we invest in the leadership capacity of those we serve but fail to really allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to create an actual need that they can fill, and so, therefore, send them a message that anything they can offer is rather superfluous? Also, these organizations seemed to be quite comfortable with the idea that people can receive service and offer leadership at the same time. One organization used the analogy of a wounded arm that needs to heal as it’s learning to lift weights. CASA issues time dollars in exchange for constituents’ activism that can then be redeemed for services from the organization.

Finally, an agency that works with young women juvenile offenders referred to this transformation into a stakeholder as ‘crossing over’ to a new identity as a leader. One young woman expressed that, now, no one can take her leadership away. Imagine if everyone we served was that transformed by their work with us. For a profession like social work that seeks to empower as we heal, that is a profound challenge that we must meet.

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