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Coalition Building: What you need to know
Coalitions by definition are temporary alliances of distinct parties, persons, or states for joint action or a common goal. Coalitions can be formed to improve issues such as alleviating hunger or homelessness to smoking cessation programs in a community.
Forming a coalition with groups outside of your organization can help expand your trajectory in the community, generate new volunteers, and bring greater attention to your project. What groups share commonalities with your organization? This could consist of similar mission statements, populations served, or geographic reach. Once you have pinpointed potential organizations with which to collaborate, you will need to build and maintain a relationship with them that is beneficial to both organizations.
How to Identify Potential Collaborators
Use the list below to start a community partners brainstorming session. What formal and informal groups would be good assets for your coalition?
- Faith-based groups and congregations
- Nonprofits, for example, Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, YWCAs, and senior centers
- Public and private schools and their PTAs
- Local colleges, universities, and trade schools
- Neighborhood associations, block captains, and community patrols
- Civic groups such as Rotary, Lions, and Junior League
- Membership associations like AARP
- Military/veteran groups
- Fraternities and sororities
Informal Community Networks
- Beauty salons
- Corner/grocery store
- Social Clubs
Building Meaningful Relationships – Do's and Don'ts
- Research potential partners to become familiar with the groups you want to approach for your coalition.
- Do they have historical ties to Dr. King or the civil rights movement?
- Have they been involved with social justice or social service initiatives?
- Do they have a long-standing tradition of celebrating MLK Day, even if that tradition has not included service or service as you define it?
- What programs do they currently have?
- What other background or traditions would be helpful to know in preparing for a meeting?
- Seek out decision makers. Make contact and schedule an appointment with the person(s) who will give the final OK for a partnership. Make sure to have the correct name and title of the decision maker and others with whom you are meeting. Make sure you are able to clearly state:
- What is the purpose for which you are seeking to partner?
- What do you hope the groups can accomplish together?
- How might the partnership enhance or compliment what they are already doing?
- How will they benefit from this coalition?
- Be patient and flexible.
- Leaders within the organization may have very full schedules that change without notice. Be understanding if there is a need to reschedule appointments.
- Some organizations or companies may have regular business hours.
- Be an active listener.
- During your first meeting, it may be helpful to do more listening than speaking.
- Ask questions about the organization's work and be ready to respond to questions about your organization's work.
- Listen, not only for spoken concerns, but for the unspoken ones also. Ask questions or provide information to help alleviate any anxiety or apprehension you hear or feel during your conversation.
- Have a framework within which you will lead the discussion, but be willing to adjust as new information, ideas, and options are brought to light.
- Build your relationship in an intentional manner.
- Clarify the purpose of the relationship, roles, and expectations
- Discuss how the new partnership will support the mission of all partners
- Allow time to build a relationship, establish common ground, and discover how best to work together.
- Build relationships with organizations, not individuals. Leaders can change, so connections should be established with more than just the leaders and communication channels should include a wider group also.
- Work together and with other partner organizations to build well-thought out and successful service projects.
- Build upon your common commitment to Dr. King's vision as a way to begin a relationship.
- Ask groups that you approach to share what they are already doing to observe the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday as well as their ongoing social service work.
- Think together of ways to build upon their work or celebration with activities that honor Dr. King's life and teachings. Offering to bring service activities to partnering organizations is a more inclusive way to engage new partners.
- Be sensitive to feelings of protectiveness that organizations may have about engaging their members in coalitions.
- New projects can be perceived as taking money, volunteers, and other resources away from an already limited capacity.
- Don't wait to reach out to an organization until your MLK Day initiative is well underway. It is important to have a relationship-oriented approach to working with other organizations in your community. Take the time to build the relationship.
- Don't utilize partnering groups as a volunteer factory. Present options that resonate with their mission and give them something in return for their resource investment.
- Don't begin the relationship with assumptions or preconceived notions about partnering organizations and their limitations. For example, some faith groups have traditionally provided services to members of their own faith; still others have outreach programs that serve the community regardless of faith tradition.
- Don't set up unequal relationships. Find equal ground; a real coalition has equal partners.
- Don't be blind to the strengths (and weaknesses) of potential partners. Every group has both strengths and weaknesses; ask for and suggest ways to maximize the group's strengths and mitigate its weaknesses.
- Don't use language that is "insider" to your organization. Potential collaborators may not understand certain references. Have open discussions and find common terminology that works for multiple audiences.
- Don't assume that English is the primary language of communication when reaching a partners' community or network. Ask what are the primary languages used among the group and ask if the partner can provide a resource for translating material, if necessary.
Maintaining Partnerships with Organizations
The following four factors are among the most important factors in maintaining partnerships with coalition members. Most can be managed through clear, honest communication.
- There is an old adage about it taking years to develop trust, but only seconds for trust to be broken. Repairing trust can take longer than developing it the first time. Be honest with partners about what they can expect of you and what you expect of them. Be clear and consistent and follow the agreed upon guidelines. If issues arise, work to resolve them immediately and in private.
- Respect means different things to different people, so it is important to have open discussions about what groups perceive to respectful and disrespectful. Then take precautions to do only those things that demonstrate respect.
- Clearly defined Roles
- Once a partnership has been formed or agreed upon, establish a clear mission for the group's work.
- What are the agreed upon goals?
- Who is responsible for each objective or task?
- What contributions are partners expected to make to the work?
- How will you communicate with each other and how often?
- How will you handle problems if they arise?
- What will success look like for each partner?
- How will each partner contribute to their own success and the success of other partners?
- How will partners evaluate success?
- Successful coalitions are hard work, so when you accomplish goals big and small, it is important to celebrate with organizers and volunteers. Include as part of your celebration a reflection of how participants feel about honoring Dr. King through their service. You can share your success with others through press releases to local newspapers and radio stations; through articles in partners' newsletters, on websites, blogs, or social media sites.
If you've missed an earlier webinar, don't worry! We will be repeating some of our hot topics in the upcoming weeks. These upcoming webinars that will help you plan and execute a successful MLK Day event.