In a time of scarce resources and contested legislative priorities, grantmakers and nonprofits must find powerful ways to move their missions forward and influence policy. One common, and often effective, way to do this is to form coalitions.
Minnesota boasts a number of successful philanthropic and not-for-profit coalitions, including the School Readiness Funders Coalition, Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, ArtsLab, and many others. As organizations increasingly partner with one another to reach common goals, what guidelines can we use to ensure these coalitions are as effective as possible?
The California Endowment reviews the structure and components of successful coalitions in the recently-released paper: What Makes an Effective Coalition? Evidence-Based Indicators of Success (PDF).
How can you make coalitions to which you belong more effective? The paper identifies several keys to success:
- Avoid redundancy. When considering whether to form a coalition, check for existing coalitions in your interest area. “Over-coalitioned” communities reduce the effectiveness of individual coalitions and the value of coalitions in general.
- Balance an inclusive membership with a strategic focus. Coalition member breadth and diversity provides wide perspectives and a stronger voice for the coalition, but members with very different points of view can struggle to agree on coalition actions. Coalitions must aim for a balance between diversity of perspective and strategic focus.
- Make decision-making transparent. Effective coalitions establish transparent decision-making processes that allow appropriate member input. Often, coalitions must choose between equitable decision-making, which allows a decision to be made even when there is disagreement among members, and consensus decision-making, which requires universal agreement before moving on. With transparency, either method can be effective.
- Take action. Coalitions, made up of disparate organizations with their own goals and priorities, are ripe for abstract discussion. Coalition leadership must balance meaningful discussion with action.
Join the conversation: Have you been a member of a successful — or not so successful — coalition? What made the coalition work well — or struggle?
— Anne Bauers, MCF research manager