What happens if your organization is embarking on a strategic planning process and your team goes into goblin mode? Step one: Try a strategic planning stakeholder survey.

But first, let’s take a minute to understand why your team might be struggling to engage. The Oxford Word of the Year 2022, “goblin mode,” captures the spirit of what nonprofit staff may be experiencing. After several difficult years, where community needs continued to increase, who could blame people for wanting some downtime? Or, as Oxford defines it, engaging in behavior that “rejects social norms and expectations.”

According to the Financial Times, goblin mode is:

eating pasta out of the saucepan (or Bridget Jones eating ice cream under a duvet); wearing a woolly hat not for warmth but because you haven’t washed your hair; … eating all the raisins out of the cereal because there’s no chocolate in the house

By that definition, we can all use a little goblin mode from time to time.

But when your nonprofit staff are struggling with burnout, being active participants in a thoughtful strategic planning process can feel overwhelming. Sure, they might show up to the retreat, but they may be too burnt out to engage at the level the organization needs.

One solution to this dynamic is to provide more opportunities for input—including activities staff can undertake even in goblin mode. That’s where a strategic planning stakeholder survey comes in. A stakeholder survey can help you gain needed insights about your organization even as you give your team a break from being “on” all of the time.


What Is a Strategic Planning Stakeholder Survey?

A strategic planning stakeholder survey is designed to glean insights about your organization from a diverse set of stakeholders.

Surveys should be custom built for your organization based on sector, type of work, and the challenges and opportunities your nonprofit is facing. You can also customize surveys for each stakeholder group, such as one version for volunteers, one for staff, and one for board. If you’re looking to get the most honest feedback possible, you may want to allow users to answer anonymously.


How Can a Stakeholder Survey Benefit Your Strategic Plan?

There are several benefits to adding a survey into your strategic planning process:


  • Provides a cost-effective way to get feedback from a wide range of stakeholders. You’ll be able to hear the perspectives of people who otherwise wouldn’t be in the room during your strategic planning retreat. For example, you can survey volunteers, community partners, and even selected donors.


  • Offers new insights through data analytics. Comparing responses across stakeholder groups—such as management and non-management staff—often reveals unexpected insights and new priority areas for capacity building.


  • Increases engagement by enabling more stakeholders, as well as diverse stakeholders, to participate. This is important when we think about learning, thinking and work styles. Some people are more comfortable providing honest feedback in writing, rather than speaking in a room full of people. Going one step further, combining a survey with one-on-one interviews and a retreat would enable you to tap into the fullest range of perspectives.


What Questions Should You Ask in a Strategic Planning Stakeholder Survey?

Ideally, surveys will combine multiple choice questions with open-ended questions. This way you can do quantitative analyses as well as qualitative analyses.

We recommend grouping questions into buckets, such as:


  • Setting organizational baselines: Part of the strategic planning process involves reviewing and honing your vision and mission. Survey questions can help you assess how well your mission and vision statements are working by evaluating how well stakeholders understand your organization’s work.


  • Identifying internal operating challenges and strengths: When surveying staff, we recommend asking questions about organizational culture, management, internal communications, and other systems. You’ll want to identify areas of tension—such as inconsistent management practices across departments—as well as areas of strength. For example, perhaps your team has become excellent at communicating internally about your organizational budget.


  • Targeting opportunities for growth: One benefit of strategic planning is getting clearer on your organization’s goals and metrics for success. That includes identifying areas of mission creep, as well as new opportunities you may be missing. You’ll want to ask direct open-ended questions, such as “What do you see as the biggest opportunities for the organization over the next 3-5 years?” You can also add in multiple choice questions, such as asking respondents to rank core programs by perceived impact and effectiveness. Questions like this help you not only assess the programs but how you communicate about them. For example, you may have a program that’s showing incredible results on metrics that your donors simply don’t know about.


How to Use Survey Results

Reviewing survey results can sometimes be difficult for leaders. The goal of a good survey is to find out both what IS working and what is NOT working. That means some answers may be hard to hear. Especially for a leader deeply invested in an organization, answers may even feel personal.

That’s why we recommend working with your strategic planning consultant to design, distribute, and evaluate the survey results. A third party can pull out the trends and nuggets of wisdom, and even increase response rates.

Finally, once you get those survey results back, it may be worth sharing with your staff how their input is informing the strategic planning process. By starting with an easier level of participation, you might just be able to get your team reengaged out of goblin mode.


Crafting a Stellar Vision and Mission Statement

How the Vision and Mission Drive Strategic Planning

Why Every Nonprofit Needs a Strategic Plan NOW

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