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Tips for creating effective Stakeholder reports

by Danaline McPhail Bryant

August 2008

What’s a stakeholder report? Is it important to publish one? How do you create it, and who should receive a copy? Knowing the answers to these questions can have a positive effect on your incubation program.

It’s important for incubators to communicate information about their challenges, successes and activities to those with a vested interest in the program. One of the best ways to do that is via a stakeholder report.

A stakeholder report is a regularly issued account to all parties with an interest – financial or otherwise – in the success of the program, including sponsors, service providers, board members, successful entrepreneurs, community leaders and the community as a whole.

It’s different from an economic impact report (another important project that incubators should undertake) because it gives a big-picture view of the program and describes what’s going on with the incubator. While economic impact information can be an important component of a stakeholder report, it shouldn’t be the only information included – nor should it be overly stressed. A good stakeholder report covers news, events, achievements, new and planned projects, needs and challenges, staff changes, and more.

“A stakeholder report puts a face on what we’re doing, and that’s very key,” says Ed Hobbs, general manager of the Toronto Business Development Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “Stakeholders want to see success stories and end results of what’s going on.”

An effective report includes variety

TBDC’s 2007 report is an eight-page, full-color publication that includes a feature about a summer program; articles on clients; announcement of a new facility; stories on new ideas and activities; interviews with graduates; and a graphic illustrating that TBDC surpasses national averages in revenue generated by clients, number of clients served, and jobs created.

Testimonials by graduates help maintain support for the program, Hobbs says, quoting this recent example: “Much of the difference between people who have a great idea and people who realize it as a successful business is the ability to find great mentors. [TBDC] was, for me, that great mentorship.”

“You can’t buy quotes this good,” Hobbs says.

Evan Jones, head of digital & incubation for the Welsh Assembly Government and director of the @Wales Digital Media Initiative in Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom, says stakeholder reports also promote good customer relations by informing important groups about jobs created, services given and how the incubator has worked to improve the economy.

“You have to tell them what they want to know and in a way they can [understand] it,” Jones says.

The report tells financial supporters, “This is what we are doing in return for your money.”

“[The] government is my biggest @Wales customer. This customer is very focused on outputs,” Jones says. “We are creating good jobs, and that’s the message, along with where the jobs are created.”

Mildred Townsend Walters, executive director of the Nashville Business Incubation Center

in Nashville, Tenn., uses a two-step process to select content for her stakeholder reports, first choosing a theme, then picking content to support it.

Incubator staff members brainstorm ideas that are important, basing their decisions on input they receive throughout the year. Each January, the incubator publishes a hard-copy report.

“It’s important to give those who support us feedback,” Walters says, noting that the reports document client and graduate success stories and recognize stakeholders who have contributed to the program’s success.

Although it’s important to give stakeholders the information they want and need, Jim Bowie, director of the Columbus Regional Technology Incubator in Columbus, Ga., warns against overloading them with too much information.

“It should be succinct and to the point,” he says, noting that an overly long, cumbersome report can be counterproductive. “Remember – just because you send it, that doesn’t mean they’ll read it,” Bowie says.

Let needs guide format and distribution

Stakeholder reports aren’t one-size-fits-all. Design, distribution and content can be handled in numerous ways, so use what works best for your incubator. But remember, what works for your incubator at one stage of its development might not work at another.

Because Hobbs believes TBDC’s report should be eye-catching, he hires a graphic designer to take staff ideas and turn them into a total package. Each report begins with a director’s message and staff photo, and ends with a back page that lists the incubator’s board of directors and describes the center’s main activities.

TBDC spends $10,000 on its report annually, but the cost will vary, depending on the needs of each incubator. It’s possible to create an effective report in an inexpensive form, such as a single-sheet brochure issued as part of the incubator’s newsletter or on a Web site.

Bowie says CRTI’s quarterly newsletter is a cost-effective, nonintrusive way to keep his stakeholders up-to-date. “We chose not to produce or send a hard-copy newsletter,” he says. “It is very expensive, and the circulation needed makes it prohibitive.”

Bowie selects stories that are “interesting and pertinent,” including client and graduate features; positive, generalized stories on business financing; client, graduate and incubator award and achievement stories; training events; and what Bowie calls “an overall, high-level 30,000-foot view” of plans for growth and strategic vision for the future.

Gathering and distributing content

Once content has been decided, how is material gathered? Hobbs says that production of TBDC’s stakeholder report is a year-round project. Though writing and production take only a few months, the gathering of information for the next issue begins as soon as the current issue is completed.

@Wales collects information in two main ways. Staff members keep records of jobs created and retained, companies and individuals assisted, and any recent “good stories.” Information also is solicited from clients.

Bowie says Constant Contact and Exact Target, two e-mail management services, ease the task of distribution. For about $15/month (including a nonprofit discount of 30 percent), Bowie sends his e-newsletter to 2,500 addresses. Recipients have the option to decline reception, so the service gives an accurate view of readership.

Bowie says his distribution list includes area business and community leaders, businesses in his market segment, technology leaders throughout the region and state, stakeholders at other incubators, and other friends of the incubator.

Moderation in all things is a long-held bit of common wisdom – and that includes stakeholder reports. Don’t make them too frequent.

“There’s a fine line between intrusion and information,” Bowie says. “You don’t want to alienate your stakeholders. If you intrude upon them too much, you’ll be seen as a pest. But if you only give them information they care about, they’ll read and appreciate it.”

Need help tracking impact data?

Regularly tracking the impact your incubation program has on your local economy can provide you with plenty of good content for a stakeholders report. Need some help getting started? Begin with NBIA’s Measuring Your Business Incubator’s Economic Impact: A Toolkit, available online at www.nbia.org/impact.

Featured Sources

Jim Bowie, director, Columbus Regional Technology Incubator, Columbus, Ga.

Ed Hobbs, general manager, Toronto Business Development Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Evan Jones, head of digital & incubation, Welsh Assembly Government, and director, @Wales Digital Media Initiative, Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom

Mildred Townsend Walters, executive director, Nashville Business Incubation Center, Nashville, Tenn.

Keywords: effective communication, marketing and promotion, sponsor, stakeholder development, stakeholder relationship management

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