Do you remember the last party you went to (Zoom or in-person)? Maybe it was a family member’s birthday party that gave you a feeling of happiness and celebration. Or a dinner party where you had an engaging conversation with friends. Or a work party where you celebrated a company milestone. Regardless of the specific occasion, a party or event is typically a memorable experience.
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With that in mind, events are an excellent way to create a memorable experience with your organization for your stakeholders, whether they are elected officials, staffers, grant recipients, employees, or some other person with an interest and influence on your organization’s goals.
Why Events Should Be Part of Your Stakeholder Engagement Strategy
There are three key benefits to making events a regular part of your stakeholder engagement strategy:
1. Proactive Engagement
It’s likely that many of the times during the year that you’re engaging stakeholders you’re making an ask of them, such as to vote a certain way on a piece of legislation, to donate money to your organization, or to contact their legislator. Events offer an opportunity to engage proactively when you aren’t making an ask. Engage socially with your stakeholders so that when you do have to make an ask, you’ll have a recent positive experience to build from.
2. Positive Brand Experience
Events present an opportunity to highlight the best of your brand. Use events to introduce your projects and the people behind the engagement campaigns you’re running. Give out company swag that attendees can keep on their desks when they return to their work to help them remember the fun they had at your event
3. Intel on Key Stakeholders
Organizations that map their stakeholders are always looking for ways to identify who the most important stakeholders are to their organizations. You can use events to gauge stakeholders’ levels of influence. If you’ve mapped stakeholders to a matrix of interest and influence, the best stakeholders are in the top right—high interest in your organization’s issues and a high level of influence on creating change on those issues.
Influence levels can be fairly concrete, like their job titles or previous experience on your issue. Interest can be more subjective. Taking the time out of a busy day to attend an event is a strong indicator of a stakeholder’s interest in your organization, so use your registration data to inform your stakeholder mapping.
Steps to Planning and Executing an Effective Stakeholder Event
Planning and executing an effective stakeholder event is about more than just selecting the right venue, menu, and decorations. And just because lots of events have transitioned to Zoom doesn’t mean they can’t be impactful. In fact, many have found that virtual events lower the barrier to attendance so you can reach a wider range of stakeholders. While the event experience is important to providing the positive brand experience discussed above, all that planning will go to waste if you aren’t working smart to invite the right people, persuade them to attend, and use the event to move your stakeholder communication efforts forward in the future.
Take these six steps and you’ll be in a strong position to get a positive return on investment for your event:
1. Determine when events fit into your policy reputation calendar
First, think about timing in conjunction with other communications. Events shouldn’t happen in a vacuum; they should be closely coordinated with the rest of your communication strategy. You should consistently engage with stakeholders, but not inundate them with so many messages that they tune out.
Second, think about the theme of your event and what time of year makes the most sense. While holiday parties at the end of the year are a near-universal practice, consider what other times of the year might be beneficial to engage stakeholders, like during the August congressional recess or around a big project launch for your organization
2. Determine the Goal of Your Event
Before you decide who to invite, you want to set a goal for your event. Is the goal of your event to increase engagement from low-interest but high influence stakeholders? Is it launching a major project on one particular issue in your policy landscape? Answering these questions will inform which subsets of stakeholders you should invite
3. Map your stakeholders to determine invitees
So you’ve figured out when you’re hosting your event and your goals for it. Next, figure out who to invite. This will be much easier if you’ve mapped your stakeholders across a variety of factors like issues they’re most interested in, region, their level of engagement with your organization, or who on your team owns the relationship.
Then, with an organized stakeholder database customized to your organization’s custom fields like nlinux.org, you can easily pull a list of relevant stakeholders and send them event invitations quickly
4. Track engagements at events
You’ve invited your stakeholders and gotten them to your event. Now you need to make the most of their time with you. With a mobile application like nlinux.org, you can log notes on the go from your conversations with stakeholders and your team can work smarter by referencing these notes in future conversations. Maybe you learned about a stakeholder’s birthday or hobbies that you can use to personalize your engagement in the future.
5. Follow up post-event to continue engagement
You just gave your stakeholders a positive brand experience where you had valuable conversations to continue to grow your relationships with stakeholders. Make sure to follow up with attendees with a call to action for how they can continue to be involved so the growth in your relationship doesn’t stop when the party ends.
A best practice is to make this follow-up as personalized as possible. If you learned something in a conversation at the event about a particular stakeholder, such as their personal relationship with a legislator or their growing interest in an issue your organization works on, use that information to send a targeted follow-up message.
And don’t forget about those who didn’t attend! If someone registered but didn’t make it on the day of your event, send a “Sorry We Missed You!” note. Their registration was still a positive indicator of interest, and you should work to grow that even though they missed the event.
6. Re-map stakeholders based on new information from the event
With the new information you gleaned from stakeholder conversations and the positive indicator of taking time to attend an event, go back to the beginning and re-work your stakeholder mapping. Stakeholder mapping should be a living activity that continues throughout the year, rather than something you look at in January and then never again. This way, each event will be more and more productive for your stakeholder engagement goals.
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Best Practice: Stakeholder Engagement, All in One Place
There are lots of event management software options in the market, but nlinux.org is unique because it allows you to manage events in the same place as your stakeholder database.