Channels of communication with stakeholders

The board has overall responsibility for stakeholder management, which includes:

  • identifying key stakeholders
  • building effective relationships with stakeholders
  • managing the risks associated with strategic partnerships and communications

Therefore, it is very important to understand key principles about communicating with stakeholders if we are to build positive relationships and create genuine value for stakeholders and our sports organisations. These are:

  • consistency in communication (consider developing a communications policy),
  • use of suitable methods and channels of communication for different stakeholders

Bodies will want to create communications plans that present their vision and goals, their structures, governance and people in the best possible light. These plans are more often created by a staff member or a sub-committee whose primary function is communications, and the board should satisfy itself that stakeholders have been prioritised with key messages appropriate to the audience. Reactionary communications rarely present the best of an organisation, and reputational damage is too often the cost paid for failures to plan.

The Institute of Business Ethics, in its 2016 report , states that a company that seeks to build a positive relationship with a wide range of external stakeholders must be clear what its values are, and its own behaviour must be consistent with the message it gives to stakeholders. A company claiming values that it does not adhere to will be exposed quickly.

Traditional methods of communication

Two traditional mainstays of an organisation’s communication are the annual report and, where held, the annual general meeting.

Annual report

The annual report has historically been considered a key communication tool to engage with members or shareholders and other stakeholders as it comes from the board and contains information on an organisation’s performance, its strategy and any changes to the governance structure or practices in the past 12 months. The annual report is also an opportunity to celebrate achievements, impact and successes, sharing with stakeholders how the organisation is meeting its objectives.

Typical contents include:

  • Reports from the chair/board and the senior management
  • A summary of the main achievements of the organisation
  • Updates on different areas of activity linked to the strategic plan and performance against key KPIs
  • Governance changes, such as any changes in the membership of the board governing committee
  • Board composition and attendance
  • Key decisions taken
  • Financial reports
  • Remuneration, where appropriate
  • Principal risks and how they are mitigated
  • Information on environmental matters, sustainability, employees/volunteers, social responsibility and how these have been factored into decisions and activities

As the Financial Reporting Council’s ‘Guidance on the Strategic Report’ notes: ‘the components of an annual report should not be drafted independently. It is only through an integrated approach to drafting the annual report that relevant relationships and interdependencies between items of information disclosed in it will be properly identified and appropriately highlighted through linkages and signposting.’

Moreover, though annual reports have historically been retrospective documents, they are increasingly being used to set out a strategic vision for the organisation.

Organisations may print copies of annual reports, but they are frequently now only available in electronic format.

The annual report remains important, but it can now be supplemented all year round with other methods and channels , which can be more immediate and may, in fact, have a greater impact.

Annual meeting

Private companies do not need to hold an unless their governing document requires them to do so. Where they are held, AGMs provide the opportunity for an organisation’s leaders to report to members on the year’s activities and progress, present financial accounts and allow the membership to exercise their rights as members. AGMs play an important role in the democratic life of an organisation through voting on certain issues (such as board appointments and resolutions) and offering an opportunity to hold leaders to account and provide feedback.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been highly disruptive of AGM seasons and has prompted many organisations to stage them virtually. This has had a positive impact for many, with attendance and engagement improving. However, with the expiry of legislation that overrode legal requirements relating to how meetings are held, organisations should address any changes needed to their governing documents to be able to hold meetings virtually.


Other channels of communication

The diversity and speed of communication has changed considerably over the past several years. From emails, social media and constantly evolving websites to online meetings, the choice of how we communicate has become more complex. If anything, change has accelerated since the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Technology opens up a number of engagement opportunities, from receiving consultation feedback online to streaming live action from events. However, because of this increasing complexity, organisations should take extra care to consider that how and what they communicate is consistent with their values, mission and vision as well as consistent throughout the different channels used.

All modes of communication in your organisation should be included in a formal communication strategy or policy document and conveyed to staff and volunteers during an induction process so that it is clear what the expectations are with regard to communication.

Let’s look at different ways to communicate with stakeholders and how to develop appropriate methods and tools to communicate.

Information contained in an email can be legally enforceable, and a sports body’s staff and volunteers should be clear about the implications of such communication. Email is often used informally but time and care should be taken when constructing correspondence as they are written, formal communications. Creating clear divisions of responsibility and delegated authority will help to ensure no staff member or volunteer makes decisions, enters into agreements or commits the organisation beyond the limits of their authority. Internal controls such as delegated financial authority policies and service contract procedures are essential as they apply to decisions and their communication.

It is often hard to convey everything in an email, and organisations should consider whether a more interactive mode of delivery is necessary. Many people’s ‘inboxes’ are full of emails, so think carefully about whether you need to send that long, detailed note or if the communication can be condensed and include and invite for further discussion.

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