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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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“Coalitions are force multipliers; they allow you to expand beyond the number of people you could reach on your own.”
— Carolyn Bartholomew, Basic Education Coalition

EXAMPLES

The Jubilee movement was able to attract and represent both conservative and liberal church-goers. “A movement that won the support of both U2's Bono and Sen. Jesse Helms must have something going for it,” said an article in Christianity Today. A central player in the movement, the Jubilee Coalition was (and is) very large and diverse. However, leading up to the passage of the Jubilee 2000 bill (canceling poor countries' debt), it had a small and focused policy advocacy core. Read more »

Do You Need a Coalition?

Perhaps you are thinking about working with other groups to support your case. Deciding who you are going to join forces with is a critical decision you need to make when planning your advocacy campaign. Many factors favor creating or joining a well-managed coalition, including:

  • Opportunities to formulate a policy agenda that balances different perspectives
  • Ability to reach a broader and bipartisan set of decision makers
  • Ability to mobilize a larger and more diverse constituency
  • Possibility of gaining more credibility with media and key stakeholders
  • Potential of attracting interest from grantmakers who seek collaborative planning and implementation

There are some not-so-rosy considerations when deciding whether or not to join a coalition. Coalitions -- especially larger ones -- can be hard to manage, time consuming, and if not run adequately, could alienate their own members. Here are some suggestions to help you avoid running into problems with coalition management.

  • Establish the coalition's goal and agenda up front and communicate it clearly to every new member, to those you are trying to influence and to the media.
  • Define coalition capacity benchmarks, preferably in collaboration with your funder.
  • Bring in most coalition members at the early stages, especially if you are running a time-bound campaign.
  • Determine “who is doing what” before embarking on advocacy activities. This will set you up for better collaboration and for easier evaluation down the road. It's also important that those responsibilities are determined with the strengths of the different organizations in mind. Coalitions can fail to operate smoothly because of ambiguity about roles and responsibilities, or because individual organizations aren't “playing to their strengths.”. With a clear plan and the right organizations doing the right work, you will be able to identify where the process is breaking down and how to get back on track while the coalition's efforts are in full swing.
  • Develop a coalition process flow chart tagging responsibilities to different coalition members. This will alleviate concerns about who should be producing distinct deliverables and how decisions will be made. The coalition coordinator will use this chart for managing the day-to-day activities. It will also serve a key role in the coalition evaluation process.
  • Designate a coordinator or management committee. Some evidence suggests that identifying a “silent leader” to serve as the coalition coordinator is an effective model for foreign policy advocacy. The “silent leader” is not the lead spokesperson for the campaign but a “behind the scenes” coordinator managing the day-to-day activities of the coalition partners and helping to keep progress on track and to plan. If you are running a larger coalition, then a management committee might be what you need.
  • Maintain clear and frequent lines of communication within the coalition. Invest in internal communications. One reason coalitions fail is communication breakdowns.
  • Encourage all coalition members to give input at key turning points.
  • Promote an environment of trust and mutual respect among all coalition members.
  • Hold formal and informal coalition meetings as often as necessary -- but only when necessary. This will allow coalition members to know and trust each other.
  • Allow for flexibility in your planning and operations to be able to react quickly to unplanned events. Decide how decisions will be made when events beyond the campaign's control affect the coalition.
  • Coalitions must decide who will receive and distribute the funds. If several organizations are working together, having one organization serve as the “banker” who cuts the checks to other coalition members may create awkward dynamics and power struggles. Yet realistically, funders might often choose this approach to streamline their own grantmaking process. Alternatives to consider would allow the grantmaker to disburse payments to each of the coalition members separately. Regardless of the logistics, all organizations should feel that they have the resources they need to be effective members of the advocacy efforts.
  • Discuss how members will take credit for the different activities during the advocacy campaign. Do all members get credit for all coalition activities or can certain organizations claim credit for their part of the work? Establishing this prior to the campaign will reduce one frequent source of tension and help the coalition work toward its long-term goals.
  • Planning how the coalition will operate is planning for evaluation; and it will save time and resources during the advocacy activities.

TIPS

  • The power of the coalition starts with a single, clear and shared message.
  • Organizations that join a coalition must be willing and able to commit resources to it: people, time and often money.
  • While a 100-member coalition might sound nice, large coalitions often end up diluting the advocacy goal; most coalition members rarely participate, and “care and feeding” of the coalition — rather than achieving the advocacy goal — can become an end to itself.
  • Be sure to set up all of the mechanism for “who does what” prior to the campaign launch. Make sure it is consistent with your planning and theory of change. That will make the campaign activities smoother while also serving as a base for evaluating the coalition's health. You'll thank yourself later.
  • Identify some 'unlikely members' to invite—groups with views quite distinct from yours but with an interesting reach. Of course, think about whether you'd be able to find enough common ground to make this work.
  • Try not to let the financial resources get in the way of an effective coalition. Make sure that all members feel they have enough resources to participate fully in the coalition and determine a disbursement process that everyone is comfortable with.
  • Despite the seeming ubiquitousness of such coalitions, many funders and nonprofit organizations are new to doing advocacy in coalition. Allow for creativity and innovation when determining a process structure for the coalition. Look hard at your theory of change and seriously consider whether you actually need a coalition, or whether your advocacy goals could be better reached by other means: your own organization, partnerships or subcontracts with one or two groups, etc.