Lessons Learned Highlights


Lessons Learned Highlights

  • Strategy

    • Coalitions are just as likely to have to navigate change as individual organizations, perhaps more so. Expect it, and know that you will need to continually confirm shared vision and evaluate and adjust your strategy in response to the emerging priorities of coalition partners who represent different community stakeholders, as well as new environmental trends such as the availability of new data or shifts in the funding landscape.

    • Regularly re-affirm mission, goals and action. Re-visiting the frame is critical to keeping partners engaged and establishing the clarity needed to refine coalition scope and build an evaluation plan.

    • Your strategic plan should be created in multiple formats (short and long) for use with different audiences (funders, board members, the public, the coalition itself).

    • Start out by focusing on measuring only one or two indicators of outputs/productivity and outcomes/impact that are easiest to collect; build up your data collection capacity over time.

    • Cultivate prospective donors early, even as part of the leadership team, to generate strong philanthropic partnerships and sustainable financial engagement.

    • Ensure you have a high-level of engagement, through a consultant or internal capacity, to translate strategy into an operations plan and then to manage implementation by the coalition.

    • You need three key ingredients: governance structure, strategic clarity and consistent coalition commitment to yield community benefit.

    • When building committees, it is a good idea to create written job description which includes how the committee will be lead and the process for conducting committee business. This ensures that those who are part of the committee know what the expectations are and how best to focus their work to support the coalition strategy.

    • It is important that trust and open dialogue are used when it comes to navigating competitive funding issues between the coalition and the partner organizations. Seek input on the issue from coalition partners via survey or individual interviews in advance of a group discussion or decision. Establish fundraising ground rules while still forming the coalition, perhaps even as part of the coalition charter or memo of understanding between the coalition partners.
  • Evaluation

    • Start small, focus on data you can collect and create small data wins over time. Build the data platform progressively as the coalition demonstrates an appetite and understanding for it and its use.

    • A coalition needs consistent leadership engagement, broad partner buy-in and regular data review and analysis to ensure that its evaluation plan evolves to meet the needs of the coalition in charting impact.

    • Structure the data collected so it can tell a story to the coalition partners and, ultimately, to the community. What is the cohesive, meaningful story about what the coalition wants to accomplish and what are the key data points to tell that story?

    • Typically, a coalition will consider three types of data: agency-level (ex. demographics), coalition health (ex. partner satisfaction, participation) and community-wide data (ex. graduation rates, teen pregnancy rates). The challenge with community-wide data is how to trace it back to the work of the coalition. Agency-level data may inform service provider adjustments, but may not be the best markers for broad coalition impact. Coalition health data is critical to tracking coalition partner engagement and the effectiveness of the coalition.

    • Two factors are critical to developing an effective evaluation plan: 1) Take coalition partners’ capacity for data collection into account in designing the system; and 2) Start by identifying data points that are easily accessible and most relevant to the coalition partners.  Once the initial data is successfully collected, lead the partners in learning how to use. When you have built the competency and capacity within the coalition, add additional data to the mix.

    • Do not assume the same investment in conducting evaluation across all coalition partners. Consider the level of engagement and different capacities for data collection among coalition partners before you create the tools and processes for evaluation.

    • Before you administer a coalition health survey, be sure that there is support among the survey participants for the scope of the survey. Buy-in can be enhanced if coalition leadership takes time to advocate for the tool and to frame the value of the survey results in the context of the overall strategy.

    • You need coalition partners who are willing to collect and analyze the data consistently over time for it to be of any use.

    • Do not frame data challenges as “failures” – if you see data that you want to change, consider it an opportunity for improvement, as well as empowerment of the coalition for success.
  • Leadership

    • Coalition leaders must have the drive to achieve coalition goals, the skills needed for the work (which differs coalition by coalition) and the time available to do each.

    • Stagger leadership tenure and transitions so that you do not lose institutional history and founding investment all at once.

    • Engage in ongoing succession planning – to groom new coalition leaders – so that the coalition can effectively manage a leadership transition.

    • As part of the succession planning, an honest discussion about the time needed to be an effective leader is critical to ensuring you have leaders in place with the right amount of backbone support to do their best work for the coalition.

    • Build coalition relationships constantly, inside and out, and drive towards early wins to maintain coalition momentum.

    • Once you transition coalition leaders, look to provide past leaders with a meaningful new role to keep them engaged, particularly as advocates for the work.

    • Base steering/executive committee membership on ability and willingness to be a coalition leader, not just on organization represented.

    • To enhance partner engagement, be succinct and communicate top-line information consistently to the full coalition.

    • Make sure your leaders can allocate the time necessary to maintain forward momentum, particularly if a coalition is in crisis.

    • Any coalition has to include systems leaders – those that focus on broad community benefit even if it does not directly impact their organizations.

    • As a coalition leader, include the coalition work as part of your individual agency goals. Ensure that your board of directors or employer not only support the work that you will be doing, but also that it be deemed a priority in the context of other leadership goals.

    • Make sure, too, that your leadership committee (executive or steering) is populated by individuals and agencies most invested in the work and success of the coalition. Consider inviting potential leadership committee prospects to be part of the coalition in another capacity first so they develop an understanding of the work before they get engaged in coalition governance.
  • Governance

    • Make sure meetings are focused, responsive and make the best use of participants’ time.

    • Develop a leadership succession plan from the start.

    • Do not assume coalition partner Create clear expectations and incentives for participation and accountability among coalition partners. Not just in the charter, but also as part of the work plan.

    • Populate your coalition with two kinds of coalition participants – deciders and doers. Deciders may play leadership roles, such as serving on the executive committee, and doers are critical to carrying out the work of the coalition in committee, in their own organizations and in the community.

    • Revisit the coalition charter and expectations for steering/executive committee and partnership regularly (ex. 1x/year) and refresh when needed.

    • Be intentional about outlining leadership structure. Detail who is on the steering committee, for how long and the roles of all steering committee members while serving.

    • A coalition works best if you understand why partners are coming to the table.  What is in it for their organization? These perspectives should drive the work of the coalition.  All partners need to feel like they have a role, can make a meaningful contribution and are getting something out of participation.
  • Coordination

    • Be clear about what kind of coordinating support is most needed. Is it administrative? Do you need a coordinator who can be more strategic – ex. by providing coalition voice, managing evaluation, engaging partners and driving the coalition forward? Do you need a coordinator who can raise funds, write grants, manage a budget? Do you need a coordinator who can collect, manage and interpret data?

    • “Backbone support,” however structured, is critical for maintaining coalition progress and forward momentum both to keep it functioning and to hold participants accountable.

    • There should be a website or cloud location where all key coalition documents are stored from the start, and where documents are updated on an ongoing basis to be current with operations, so you do not have to recreate coalition history.

    • Decide who will drive the coalition agenda – is it a coalition of the willing which makes decisions and then looks to a coordinator to manage execution or will a coordinator play a leadership role in developing and driving the agenda?

    • Develop coalition structure – committees, leadership and communication outlets – based on capacity so it can be effectively managed and does not become unwieldy.

    • Ask partners both what they want out of, and what they will bring to, the coalition. The needs of all stakeholders should be taken into account in developing the direction, goals and strategy of the coalition. Coalitions should articulate the value of partnership at the outset, be clear about the role and expectations for partners and deliver on the promise of reciprocity in order to encourage active and diverse partnership.



MFP_300_dpi_logo_transparent_bgCoalition-Building Roadmap


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