Building Engagement With Our Most Important Stakeholders — Individuals We Serve
The unique lived experience of the people we serve, as nonprofits, is vital to shaping our long-term success. For any nonprofit, focusing on building deep and meaningful engagement with alumni — in all facets of an organization’s mission — can translate to a stronger, more vibrant and sustainable organization.
At Boys Hope Girls Hope, we provide academic and personal support to scholars from disadvantaged backgrounds. We call the young people we serve “scholars” while they are in the program, and “alumni” once they are pursuing their post-secondary education or have graduated and are leading their lives as educators, nurses, businesspeople, active military and lawyers, among other careers.
Active participation and input from our alumni community has been integral to informing our current practice and strategic direction, bolstering our mission, and fueling our growth. From big picture planning to day-to-day work and volunteerism, alumni from our network bring a critical perspective and a level of insight that can’t be found elsewhere.
We’re learning that it takes a concerted and intentional effort to create opportunities for our alumni to contribute in deep and meaningful ways. In recent years, we’ve been thoughtful in shifting our approach from solely asking alumni to share their stories of how the organization impacted their lives to creating opportunities for them to engage and lead within the organization — whether that is serving on one of our boards, on our team or as volunteer mentors. There are currently nine alumni serving on boards across our network, 22 alumni who are Boys Hope Girls Hope affiliate team members and many others who contribute in distinct ways. We hope to grow these numbers in the years ahead.
Stakeholder Impact on Strategic Planning
Prioritizing, valuing and, most importantly, acting on the input we get from our alumni has helped shape our organization in significant ways. A great example of this is the recent exercise we went through to develop a five-year strategic plan. This strategic plan, which sets a goal of tripling our reach over the next 10 years, would not have been possible without significant input and feedback from our alumni.
They know firsthand where the gaps and opportunities lie, and can bring that perspective to the table. For example, an alumnus who sits on the Boys Hope Girls Hope Network and Pittsburgh affiliate boards took on the key role of moderating an alumni panel to gather feedback that directly informed some of the direction in the strategic plan.
Stakeholder Impact on DEI Challenges
Soliciting feedback and input from those we serve doesn’t come without its challenges. No organization is perfect and there is always room to grow. It’s vital that we as nonprofit leaders create the space and opportunity to listen to both the good and difficult feedback to have a solid understanding of where we need to grow.
In recent years, alumni have given very practical and thoughtful feedback on how we can be more culturally relevant and inclusive. Alumni take part in regular diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and dialogue, which has helped us to address areas of growth in everything from our daily practices to who we hire and how we work with community partners. As we shape our curriculum, alumni have consistently shared that we need to beef up our curriculum in practical financial education for our scholars, which we’re now doing with strategic partners.
Stakeholder Impact on Leadership Decisions
Having alumni in team leadership roles is incredibly valuable in this regard. One of our alumni from our New Orleans affiliate is now its program director, after having worked at the New York affiliate for many years. Because of her experience going through the program, she brings a firsthand perspective to the table when making strategic and operational decisions that help us get right to the heart of the matter. We also know that advice from alumni to our scholars carries weight and impact because the messenger has shared the experience.
At Boys Hope Girls Hope, our approach to engaging with our alumni has also taught us to be proactive and flexible, but also patient about bringing our alumni back into the fold when the time is right. We are eager to have alumni involved, but also realize that people have different priorities at different stages. Some of our alumni are focused on developing their early careers, finding a life partner, starting their own families or taking what they learned from Boys Hope Girls Hope to other organizations in their communities.
By being intentional, in both big and small ways, listening to those we serve, and actively working to build unity and engagement, nonprofit leaders can further tap into the wealth of knowledge and passion that those we serve possess and leverage their insight and experiences to further fuel the fulfillment of our mission.
Kristin Ostby de Barillas has dedicated the last 17 years of her career to supporting the mission of Boys Hope Girls Hope. In her role as president and CEO, Kristin leads the organization’s vision, strategy, planning and execution to achieve the mission of Boys Hope Girls Hope across 13 U.S. and two Latin American affiliates. She also works to engage, inspire and equip her team to carry out the organization’s mission with high standards of excellence. Kristin has a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Carleton College and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.