Step 5: Build A Coalition
“It takes a village,” might as well be an expression about how to make social change. A coalition is an alliance of individuals, groups or organizations that has come together or formed a partnership for a common purpose. Coalitions serve many purposes and can be beneficial in distributing the workload, reaching new audiences, sharing collaborative resources and exchanging new ideas.
Forming a coalition may sounds easy, but requires proper planning, focused communication and active follow up to be successful and sustainable.
A. How to Build a Coalition
Begin building your coalition by identifying the purpose, goals and objectives you wish to accomplish by forming this alliance. These may evolve as the coalition is formed, but you should have an idea where you are going before you set out.
Just like starting your own initiative, a good coalition begins with research. Identify target individuals, groups and organizations that align with your purpose and become familiar with their current and past projects as well as future endeavors they plan to take address the issue. We suggest developing a target list and prioritizing potential alliances. By the end of your coalition research you should be able to answer the following questions:
Why should they join a coalition with you?
What are the mutual benefits for joining the coalition?
What are the expectations of joining the coalition?
How will they fit into your project?
Once you can answer these questions, you are ready to begin your coalition outreach. Based on the target list you created, start identifying key staff members within those groups and organizations that would be best positioned to make decisions on joining a coalition. Often times these will be team members that work on partnerships or programs. It’s important for you to also identify the person within your initiative that is best positioned to “make the ask.” Are there existing connections to that person or organization? Social media can be a great resource in identifying these connections.
Through one-on-one meetings with potential partners, you can establish buy-in and generate interest for joining the coalition. Turn these good conversations into actions by establishing a partner call with all potential coalition organizations. While in-person meetings are always preferred, virtual meeting via conference calls, Skype chats or Google hangouts all work well too.
As with any meeting, come prepared with an agenda and action items. And be sure to follow up your meeting with personalized e-mails and conversations.
B. Sustain the Coalition
Once you’ve gotten your coalition started, you need to sustain it. Three key tools in keeping your coalition going are monthly emails or newsletters, a collective calendar and holding routine coalition meetings.
Though monthly e-mails can be long, they are a good way to refresh everyone’s memory of prior tasks and achievements to help focus on the big picture and purpose of your coalition. Break your email into sections and highlight the most important content so they can be quickly scanned. Keep the tone conversational and light. This is email should serve as a general reminder and not the main method of conducting business.
In-person meetings are crucial to starting and sustaining a coalition. Just like with your team meetings, utilizing a collective calendar will help you find the best time to meet and avoid individual conflicts. It’s important to encourage all participants to attend even routine face-to-face meetings and to utilize this face time as a tool to strengthen relationships, ease communication, and acknowledge member success (personal and professional). People want to know their contribution is being heard and valued. It is a good idea to also create a rotation of one-on-one follow up or “offline,” check-in meetings. These meetings can be as casual as grabbing a cup of coffee or a quick phone call, but will encourage candid, personal discussions that can’t or don’t occur during group sessions.
Before adjourning your coalition meeting, always establish the next meeting date and other important follow up deadlines.