Make Friends!

Coalition Building

When you need to do the heavy lifting, it’s always better to enlist some friends to achieve your goals. The same principle holds true when you are advocating for policy change – enlist some of your friends to advocate with you. In other words, multiply the power of one!  

Building coalitions takes a little bit of time and effort, but it can reap great rewards. Think about the organizations in your community that is affected by the issue at hand. Depending on the outcome you are looking for, you should ask yourself, “Who benefits from this policy?” or “Who is hurt by this policy?” Think of non-traditional taxpayer advocacy groups. Your allies may be found among anyone from minority groups to social conservative organizations.

Once you have a list of organizations to approach, make sure you know what you are asking them to do. Have a clear and simple policy fact sheet they can use. Ask them for specific action, such as emailing their members, calling certain elected officials, or joining you at for a zoom meeting. Ask them what their position on the issue is and why it is important to their colleagues. You never know if this will lead you to another coalition partner.  Most importantly, say thank you. Big changes are rarely achieved solely by one person.

Warning: Be careful not to align your group with one that is unethical – like wrestling with a pig, you will both get muddy. And the pig will enjoy it! But your organization could suffer.

Coalitions are powerful. A coalition is a network of organizations (and sometimes just regular people) that work together to achieve a greater goal. Here are just a few of the major perks of a strong coalition:

  • More people and groups help to broaden the promotion of events and push messages.
  • A diverse coalition speaks in many voices to different audiences.
  • It is the perfect place for brainstorming ideas and exchanging breaking news.
  • It’s powerful! A coalition letter with dozens or hundreds of different organizations signed on will show strength.

Here are some basic steps and things to keep in mind as you get started:

  1. Establish the basic principles your coalition will support. Keep it simple and limit it to 1-3 points. Remember that sometimes less controversial, broader positions will attract larger coalitions. Decide if you will engage other types of organizations in this process and how.
  2. Write up a simple, powerful, short coalition letter and sign your own organization on. Do not publish it yet.
  3. Decide whether you want to accept individual signatures or only organizations.  Organizations generally look better, but you may need to include individuals who are thought-leaders or bring access to new communities. You can also consider having a different petition for individuals to sign.
  4. Get signers! (This step generally takes between 2 days to 2 weeks)
    • Make a list of all the possible organizations that might want to sign on. Use your professional contacts and Internet searches to seek out organizations that work on similar issues.
    • Contact the appropriate decision-maker at each organization. Explain the issue and ask them to sign on. It is your duty to follow-up! Try sending emails and count on phone calls for crucial follow-ups.
    • Always approach large organizations early. Large organizations may have bureaucracy in place that slows down decision-making. A large organization may also request slight changes to your guiding principles; you’ll have to weigh these requests on a case-by-case basis.
    • Once you get an organization to sign on, ask that organization who else you should contact. Ask for email introductions where possible.
    • Ask all your cosigners to help circulate an email to other possible signers.
  5. Announce your coalition.
    • When you have gathered a decent-sized group of signatories, put out a press release (see media guide) and/or a blog post. Use your social media channels!
    • Publish your press release, your guiding principles or letter, and a list of everyone in the coalition on a public website.
    • Tell people how they can join the coalition. Add new signatories to the site as you hear from them.
    • If organizations can’t sign on to your statement, encourage them to issue a statement in their own words.
  6. Set up a mailing list or list serve for everyone from the coalition to exchange news and updates.
    • Set clear rules in regard to the purpose of the list. It’s fine if people post things that aren’t directly relevant to your campaign/issue. However, if someone routinely sends controversial and off-topic posts, approach him/her off-list and politely request that they stop. You want to encourage productive exchanges.
    • Send emails to the list regularly with links to relevant news articles and updates on the campaign. Keep the tone conversational. If you’re sending a link to a news article, include a summary in your own words.
  7. Exchange info & plan events with conference calls.
    • Schedule regular or semi-regular conferences calls to discuss strategy, exchange information, create smaller groups to tackle specific needs, and brainstorm next steps.
    • Take extra time to find a time that works well for a lot of people in the coalition, rather than just scheduling something that’s convenient for you.
    • Send several reminders about coalition calls—including a reminder 1 hour and 5 minutes before the call starts.
    • Try to keep calls under 1 hour whenever possible by setting an agenda in advance.
    • Make sure other people talk on the conference calls. If you’re worried that you’ll be doing all the talking, contact a few of the other members beforehand and ask them to handle certain parts of the agenda, then review with them what content to include.
    • If you find attendance on conference calls is dropping, try to recruit new members to the coalition. Individually reach out to key members and ask them to participate in calls. Ask yourself: Do people feel like their participation is necessary and important? Are the calls fun? Insightful?
    • Send a follow-up email with notes from each call, so everybody feels they are on the same page. If necessary, build a wiki or another environment for your community to use when feeling lost.