Guest Post by Daniel Weinzveg

Whether I am talking to clients, workshop participants or the lady next to me on the plane, I keep hearing similar refrains:

“How do I engage … team, donors, colleagues, clients, volunteers, employees, etc.?!”

But the problem with this new buzzword (engagement) is that it means different things to different people.

It’s Time to Clarify Your Definition of Engagement

When people talk about engagement some people are talking about employee well-being, others areengagement talking about motivation, others are talking about loyalty, others are talking about attendance, others are talking about donations, and others are talking about something else!

With such a wide variety of ways to be engaged, the larger question looms, “Why engage?” And if you are lucky enough to have that question answered, then the question becomes, “How do we engage?” And that is what so many organizations are struggling with today — strategies to meaningfully and sustainably engage target stakeholders.

Solving this problem requires us to go back to the “Why Engage?” The reasons organizations need to engage their stakeholders are as diverse as the amount of organizations in existence. Some need to engage their stakeholders for honest feedback, others for volunteerism, others for retention, others for continuity of services, and the list goes on.

Think about whom you are trying to engage. Why is it important to engage them?

As I research, discuss and work to solve the engagement enigma with my clients, I find organizations are striving to engage stakeholders to a handful of ends. Below is a list of how organizations want to engage their stakeholders:

  1. As Advocates: People who will advocate, spread the word and help market your efforts
  2. As Attendees: People who will show up to support your efforts
  3. As Donors: People who will contribute to your efforts
  4. As Loyalists: People who are committed to seeing your effort succeed
  5. As Happy Employees/Customers: People who are excited to be a part of your effort
  6. As Volunteers: People who spend their free time supporting your effort

Measuring Engagement

For each of these different answers to “how to engage,” organizations should consider developing separate strategies. After all, meaningfully engaging someone to become a donor looks a lot different than meaningfully engaging someone to become a loyal employee. Given the six types of audiences, I laid out above, which audience are you trying to engage? With this framing, is your engagement strategy aligned with the engagement outcome you are seeking?

Gaining clarity on this is a huge step towards engaging your target audience. It is unlikely that you will be able to engage your target audience to embody all six engagement roles, so it is important to focus the “why” and “how” of your engagement strategy to align with the actions that will best leverage their abilities and your organization’s goals.

I hear leaders in the nonprofit sector lamenting the engagement of Millennials all the time. Upon further digging what I hear them saying is that their millennial supporters are lack-luster donors. They are great at spreading the organization’s word and work, yet they do not donate. If the nonprofit is hoping to engage Millennials as donors, then they are right, this population is not engaged. If the organization is hoping to engage Millennials as advocates, then this nonprofit is doing a great job! It all depends on how you measure “engagement.”

Next time you hear or speak about engagement, pause. Ask, “Why is it important to engage this specific population?” When you have come to a satisfying answer, it is time to pivot; “So, given that you want to engage this population because of X, how might we specifically go about doing that?” In this answer lies the key to unlocking your organization’s iteration of the engagement enigma.

Guest Post

Daniel WeinzvegDaniel Weinzveg, M.A., is an Organization Development Consultant specializing in designing, training and developing diverse, intergenerational work places. He lives and works in Northern California. For more information, visit, or connect with him @danielweinzveg.