Who Shares in Your Success

Who Shares in Your Success?

If you are like me, you may consider yourself lucky to work in a field that mostly manages to avoid using annoying corporate buzzwords. You know what I mean – pivot, circle back, and perhaps the most infamous of them all: synergy.

There is one exception, though, to my distaste for this pretentious vocabulary. Shareholder(s). I know you are not the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but you may have more in common with Warren Buffett than you think. Like a publicly traded corporation and its executives, grant programs such as GEAR UP and TRIO are also beholden to many people whose participation is crucial to their success.

In the past, you may have referred to these people as stakeholders because they hold a “stake” in the outcome of the action. However, researchers and educators are beginning to recognize the word has a meaning in history with the way Canada, Australia, and the Western US were colonized. In 2020, the CDC included “stakeholders” in their “Health Equity Style Guide” because "it has a violent connotation for some tribes and tribal members."

While there are many other options, my opinion is that shareholder is a better term anyway because it more accurately represents how your program is shared by many entities. Each shareholder contributes something of value to your program, like an investor purchasing a stock. In exchange, the shareholder expects to receive some type of benefit. The difference is just that for grant programs, the dividends arrive in the form of something other than dollars.

The first step toward understanding and strengthening your relationships with your shareholders is making sure you know who they all are. Take time to write out a list of every individual, group, organization, agency, etc. that may share in the success of your program.

Here are several questions to get you started:

  • Who funds my program? This may seem to be one of the more straightforward entries on the list. After all, the people who control the purse strings have an obvious and direct effect on your program because they enable it to exist. But once you write down the basic answer (maybe it is as simple as “the U.S. Department of Education”), try to break it down further, perhaps into an outline. In that example, the department consists of different people who fill different roles and perform different tasks. Thus, they may have different priorities that translate into different interests in your program. If your program receives funding from other organizations, such as foundations/charities, try to break those down as well.

  • Who is funded by my program? Everyone who receives a “share” of the funding is certainly a shareholder! That includes you and any other staff members, as well as any contractors or vendors. Then, of course, that includes your clients/participants. The answer to this question, like the previous question, might also have many sub-categories. Some programs may provide different services to entirely different groups. Other programs may have just one concentration, such as, for example, a school. Within that school, there are probably different constituencies with different priorities, such as administrators AND teachers, AND students. Each of those groups wants their school to be “good”, but each group would define that term differently. Thus, they have different interests in your program.

  • Who is affected by my program? Many of the answers to this third question should already have been captured in the answers to the previous question. However, this question should guide you to those who are less directly affected by your program. Perhaps your initial answer to this is the neighborhood or the city. Your program likely aspires to initiate a ripple effect in the community. For example, does your program equip young people with job skills? If so, area businesses that may someday hire your young people could be shareholders in your program.

After you have asked and answered all those questions, you may have ended up with a pretty long list of people who have different connections to a GEAR UP or TRIO program who all share in its success. As we continue to be mindful of our word choices and the connotations they may have for different groups, there are still times we need to refer to this large group at once. While I personally like to use shareholders, here are some of the words the CEOP RED Department uses:

The next step is to have foundational guidelines to build and maintain relationships with all of the groups and individuals connected to your program; this will be featured in a future blog.

Contributed By Joanna Sullivan

Joanna Sullivan is an Associate Researcher for the Research, Evaluation & Dissemination Department at the Center for Educational Opportunity Programs. She currently manages the data collection processes and conducts the formative and summative evaluations of several of CEOP’s federally funded college access programs, including GEAR UP and Talent Search.

Follow @CEOPmedia on Twitter to learn more about how our Research, Evaluation, and Dissemination team leverages data and strategic dissemination to improve program outcomes while improving the visibility of college access programs.