Lately, we have been doing a lot of coalition building at K2. From finding advocates for congressional roundtables to talk about important health care issues, to putting on an event for a national hospitality coalition, there are numerous places where we’re helping clients recruit quality, diverse voices that elevate their priorities and make an impact with policymakers and the public.
When done right, coalitions can be a powerful tool that can help advance (or block) change, influence lawmakers, and gain positive, public exposure around a cause. What makes an effective coalition, and how do you go about building one?
Here are some tips to get you started.
Understand Who Influences the Influencers
This may seem simple, but when starting to build a coalition, it’s important to think about what kinds of people, organizations, constituents, etc. will be a messenger that moves a policymaker in your direction. A progressive-leaning non-profit known for supporting DFL members will not move a Republican elected official to action. Nor will an organization that is known for funding Republican candidates and causes move a Democrat to act. Understand who holds influence among those you are trying to target and bring those voices to the table.
Moreover, understand that if you are trying to influence a variety of targets across the political spectrum, you must build a broad, bipartisan coalition who can help influence change and deliver strong, catered messages to a variety of lawmakers.
Quality vs. Quantity
You can recruit hundreds of people to your coalition, but if they aren’t the right people to influence change or aren’t active in engaging with targets or elevating your message, quantity may not mean very much. Instead think about the types of people you’re recruiting, and how they can best add value. A local chamber may have the ear of state legislators and federal lawmakers, while an everyday, grassroots voice with a powerful story to tell that is very pitchable to local media, helping bring attention to your issue.
Different coalition members will have different strengths, so lean into where people can best be activated, and understand that even a handful of coalition members can have a big impact.
Lean Into the Power of Relationships
Coalition building takes time and dedication, and it’s important to maintain those relationships over the long term. Even when a coalition campaign is over, continue to be intentional about keeping in contact. You never know when an issue may come up again, or when a person or organization may fit well with another project.
It takes time to build and maintain relationships, but it’s well worth it!
Start With Who You Know
A good coalition is all about relationships, and that means starting with your existing relationships! Who in your circle could be a strong coalition member? Who do your friends, family or colleagues know? Sometimes it’s amazing when you start in your circles to find out who you already have connections with, and who may align with your issue or campaign. That is often the easiest place to start.
Empower Coalition Members to Be Effective Advocates
Many people want to help but don’t know where to start. That’s why it’s critical to empower coalition members to make a difference. That could mean providing toolkits with sample social media posts, letters to the editor, or letters and phone scripts for lawmakers. It could mean providing media training to a coalition member and pitching them to reporters to gain media coverage. It could mean helping an advocate tell their story in a roundtable with a lawmaker or at a press conference.
The more guidance you provide to coalition members, the more effective your coalition will be at championing your cause. Because after all, at the end of the day – building a coalition is all about getting things done.