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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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"You need to have extraordinary people who are committed to managing the coalition.”
— Anonymous Advocate

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 »

Coalition Building

Grantmakers are in a unique position to strengthen advocacy and policy outcomes by encouraging and supporting coalitions of organizations who come together to pursue a common goal. While most groups agree on the inherent value of collaborating, they often find it is a struggle to collaborate effectively. Groups are often facing substantial competition for resources, frequently encouraged (intentionally or not) by the grantmakers themselves; also, collaborations can be time and resource-consuming. These and several other factors make groups question the value of investing their often limited resources in coalition building.

Advocacy on many domestic policy issues has a long history. Advocates for increased education funding can point to major battles from decades past, civil rights organizations reach back half a century, and women's organizations hearken back to the suffrage movement. Other advocacy areas, such as the foreign policy and global development advocacy arena, are relatively new and expanding fields in the United States. Many of the organizations in this area have existed less than 10 years. Others have been around longer, operating service-delivery programs in the developing world, but have only recently taken up advocacy in the United States. Additionally, several organizations have small budgets, limiting their capacity to conduct advocacy at a broader scale. Regardless of the field of advocacy, well-managed coalitions can help both smaller and larger groups with different missions but the same policy affinities to join forces in order to achieve a shared goal. Grantmakers can help create an enabling environment for successful advocacy by coalitions.

Benefits of advocacy coalitions
Building a coalition to achieve your goals has several critical advantages. They include:

  • Formulates a policy agenda that balances different perspectives
  • Promotes collaboration among organizations with diverse backgrounds but shared interests
  • Brings together groups with different and complementary advocacy skill sets
  • Reaches a broader and bipartisan set of policy makers
  • Educates and mobilizes a wider and more diverse range of constituents
  • Strengthens individual organizations' capacities in network building and collaboration skills
  • Promotes grantees' focus on contribution, rather than attribution
  • Strengthens your advocacy community

However, coalitions—especially larger ones—can be hard to manage and time consuming. If they are not run well, coalitions can alienate their own members. Here are some important points to discuss with your grantees when considering making a grant to create a coalition or to support an existing coalition.

  • The coalition's goals need to be clear to each member, to those the coalition is trying to influence and to the media.
  • Most coalition members should join in at the early stages, especially if you are funding a time-sensitive campaign. This approach helps avoid diluting the agenda or reducing the policy “ask” or education goal to the “least common denominator.”
  • Encourage grantees to seek out a diverse array of groups, including some ”strange bedfellows” who could come together under a common goal. This is especially difficult, but it is very important to aim for a diverse membership, especially when the coalition has a long-term goal. Remember, diverse groups bring in diverse constituencies—making the advocacy work stronger.
  • Help grantees determine “who is doing what” prior to embarking on advocacy activities. This will set them up for easier evaluation down the road. One of the main reasons coalitions fail to operate smoothly is ambiguity concerning roles and responsibilities. With a clear plan, grantees 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.
  • 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 is easier for you as a grantmaker, but may create awkward dynamics and power struggles. Consider disbursing payments to each of the coalition members separately. If this is not possible, then creating a management committee might be a good approach. The management committee could act as a “behind the scenes” coordinator managing the day-to-day activities of the coalition and helping keep progress on track. Regardless of the logistics, all organizations should feel that they have the resources they need to be effective members of the advocacy efforts. As with every aspect of a grant-funded advocacy effort, clear communication—among the grantseekers, and between grantseekers and grantmakers—is essential to success.
  • Encourage clear and frequent lines of communications within the coalition and clear internal procedures to allow coalition members to give input at key turning points. Invest in internal communications. One reason coalitions fail is communication breakdowns. As a grantmaker, you can help make that less likely.
  • Allow for flexibility in the coalition's planning and operations to be able to react quickly to unplanned events. Coalition members must know how decisions will be made when events beyond the coalition's control affect their planning.
  • Help grantees define coalition capacity benchmarks. Recognize that benchmarks will vary depending on the nature and purpose of the coalition.
  • Discuss with grantees how individual coalition members will take credit for the different activities during and after the grant. 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 prevent tension and help the coalition work toward its long-term vision.
  • Be familiar with your own legal limitations and discuss them upfront with grantees. There are many ways that grantmakers can influence public policy, but you still need to ensure that the coalition goals are within the boundaries of what the tax code permits your grantmaking institution to fund. In the resources section of this page we provide links to several publications to help you clarify what is permissible. Educating yourself is the first step; this will also help you have informed conversations with your legal and tax experts.

Remember: Planning for how the coalition will operate is also planning for evaluation and will also save time and resources during advocacy activities.


TIPS

  • Encourage grantees to look hard at their theory of change and seriously consider whether they actually need a coalition, or whether their advocacy goals could be better reached by other means: partnerships or subcontracts with one or two groups, etc.
  • The power of the coalition starts with a single, clear and shared goal.
  • Even if financial resources will be made available for the coalition through a grant, organizations that join the coalition must be willing and able to commit real resources to it: people, time and if needed money.
  • 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; if that is impossible, at least do your best to establish a budget and disbursement process that everyone is comfortable with.
  • Many nonprofits and even grantmakers are new to working in coalitions for policy advocacy. Allow for creativity and innovation when determining a coalition's structure and processes.