So you’re starting a coalition. That’s great! Coalitions are incredible for many, many reasons. Coalitions are the lifeblood of political change in any democracy, and are often the place where real transformative change can happen for individuals and at scale.
Much like building a house, however, building a coalition begins with creating a solid foundation. In a coalition, that means a shared vision and values.
Aligning on vision and values is probably the hardest part of building and running a coalition. It’s much easier to jump right into griping about the problem, planning for the legislative session, or setting another meeting. But if you go into this kind of relation-ship based, trust-building work without a well-articulated, cohesive, values-driven perspective on what and how you do the work, it will fall apart when push comes to shove.
And in politics, push, inevitably, comes to shove.
A quick aside: before you hit send on that email inviting people to this cool new thing you’re doing, a few key questions:
- Is there already a coalition doing this work? If so, are there ways you can elevate that work, partner with the coalition or join in rather than starting a whole other table?
- Is this a coalition or a campaign? Bringing folks together for a campaign or project is a great idea—but that is not a coalition! Sometimes campaigns and projects are part of the scope of a coalition but coalitions should concern themselves with long term, transformational, structural change.
If you answer the above questions with “No! No one is doing this important, collective, long-term transformation!” then you’re ready to start a coalition.
Here are the three steps you need to start a coalition built for the long run. We’ve included the kinds of questions you should be asking yourself as you get into it, and some tips and outcomes as you try to navigate the answers.
1. Align on a shared vision.
What problem is the coalition trying to solve?
Who are the folks at the center of this work?
What vision does the coalition hope to realize?
While coalition members may not be perfectly aligned on the answers to these questions, it is important to get high level buy-in from the group on the broad problem and vision before you get going.
2. Set big goals.
What campaigns or projects do you want to work on or advance?
What would success look like in one year, five years, ten years?
This will help you to set some short-term goals that are easily achievable and that you have capacity to make happen and some long-term goals that are aspirational and require continued building.
3. Identify what type of work you do and set your theory of change.
Where does your coalition’s power come from?
Who is your audience?
At what levels of government or in what contexts do you do your work?
What are the asks of and offerings to coalition members?
Do you advance policies through grasstops organizing or do you educate community through direct organizing?
You need a clear understanding of the answers to these questions as a coalition member. Otherwise, you’ll go to do something like set your legislative agenda for the year and realize you’re not actually sure what policies belong in your shared vision.
Coalitions are so invaluable. They enable folks to pool resources and increase their impact. They allow members to gain insight from one another and engage in continued learning and accountability. Perhaps most importantly, they reflect the very spirit of democracy—elevating the concerns of communities to the halls of power and change by bringing together many influential voices in one space.
When you run a coalition, it’s important that you do it well.