Collaborations and Coalitions: Working with Like-Minded People

Snowflakes are one of nature's most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick together.
-- Verna M. Kelly

Many advocates find that combining many voices is more effective – not only because you are more likely to be heard, but it’s more efficient as well. Learning from people with more experience advocating on the issue can save a lot of time – they know what has and hasn’t worked in the past and which policymakers are sympathetic to the issue. Working in a coalition, advocates can share important updates. Sharing resources – time, money, the services of a lobbyist – saves precious advocacy resources. And more collaborators mean more opportunities to reach different policymakers.

Finding a like-minded group is not usually hard. Search the internet. Check on college campuses. Go to a few public hearings, meetings or conferences on your issue and see who testifies, gives public comment, or speaks on a panel. Look up related bills from prior years and see which groups submitted testimony. Ask a policymaker which groups they respect.

Once you find a group, go to a few meetings and read their materials. You will quickly decide if it is a good fit for you. Consider

• the mission and the goals – Do they include your issue? Are you comfortable supporting the other issues they include?
• what you will be expected to contribute – Some will ask for nothing, but some may have a membership fee. Some may ask for access to your network (if you have one), or for a significant commitment of time.
• the history of the group – see if they have a history of advocacy success
• their reputation – Check around; especially ask policymakers about the group.
• who else belongs – Be sure you are comfortable with the partners, but don’t rule out groups with unlikely members; unlikely partners can be a significant strength.
• is one group or person driving the agenda – If so, are you OK with that?
• politics -- Some coalitions are aligned with one party or even one wing of a party. That is not necessarily bad but be sure you are comfortable with their bias and limits.

While coalitions can be extremely effective, they are human institutions. Power struggles, turf battles, and strong personalities are not uncommon. There can be differences in culture, ways of working, resources, and levels of commitment to the cause. Recognize and respect the differences.

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