Building a coalition is not a linear, one-size-fits-all process. Yet, if done well it can create real and lasting community change. At its best, a coalition is a catalyst stimulating debate, research, new investment and collective action. A coalition harnesses the expertise and drive of individual nonprofit, public and/or private sector partners in pursuit of greater shared impact. However, building a strong, effective and efficient coalition takes a sustained, long-term investment.
Several questions addressed in this section include:
- How ready is your organization to join forces with other agencies – nonprofit, public or private – and commit human and financial resources for an effective coalition?
- What are the essential factors you should assess to determine if a coalition is a good fit for the problem you want to address?
- What are the key questions to ask to determine if you have the right combination of organizational, partner and community conditions in place to move forward to build a coalition?
The information in this section guides you in assessing whether you have the basic requirements for an effective coalition, including how to ensure that you have a strong foundation from which to build, and how to conduct a community needs assessment.
In community work, organizations are often called together to share information and to network, particularly when working on the same or complimentary issues. Information sharing and networking are critical activities for any organization. They can help address the common challenge of working in silos and focusing only on your work, rather than building a broader community understanding that can better advance your organization’s mission. From this understanding can emerge a long-term goal to act together in coalition to fill a community service gap that cannot be solved by any one organization. And sometimes, coalitions assemble to start with this long-term goal. Either way, it is important to identify the purpose of the coalition early on. Further, it is important to clarify the coalition’s scope of work and expectations to ensure that your organization’s interests are well-aligned and that you are able to effectively participate. Most importantly, if coalition meetings seem adrift, it is not enough to continue to attend out of obligation to a colleague or because you do not want to miss what happens when you are not present. Your time and your organization’s mission are too important for you to be involved in a coalition that is not mutually beneficial.
A needs assessment can be an important tool to quantify the issues and create a sense of urgency around community action. For a coalition of any age, a needs assessment may be used to define priorities, assess changes in conditions, focus efforts and leverage funding and support.