Coalition building has always been important for businesses and organizations, but today’s climate means we must change our approach.
Organizing and mobilizing diverse individuals and groups who can advocate for your business or cause is even more critical in a fractured society. Tried and true advocacy strategies still work, but the current climate presents new challenges.
Building a coalition requires commitment to short- and-long-term strategies and allocating the resources needed to support your goals. These tactics can help coalitions achieve success in our world.
Start with a base of individuals and groups who understand your business or cause, are already talking about it and are willing to dedicate their resources to bring about change. Use stakeholder mapping to identify champions, assess their influence and highlight opportunities and challenges to their engagement. Answering these questions will help identify and evaluate champions:
- Who has been affected by the issue?
- Who has spoken in support of the issue or similar issues?
- Who is currently engaging in conversation about the issue? What is their message? Are they effective?
- Is it more effective to join an existing coalition or create a new one?
- How can we collaborate with diverse people and groups? What resources do they bring to the table?
- Are there potential pitfalls in partnering that could negatively impact our brand?
Once you’ve conducted your research, reach out and start a conversation with champions who can strengthen your coalition.
Consider Nontraditional Partners
It is easier to foster buy-in if the focus of the coalition is narrow, as opposed to having a broad agenda of items. Clarity is essential, and all members must agree on how the coalition will define success. Although there are issues on which some groups will never align, there are natural fits.
Increasingly, I’m seeing public-private partnerships between diverse stakeholders who see an overarching goal that can be accomplished together. In Florida, for example, the Alliance for Access to Cancer Care, composed of patients, physicians, caregivers, health care organizations, businesses and elected officials, was a powerful coalition for improving patient access to orally administered cancer treatments.
Narrowing your focus and stepping out of your comfort zone to identify nontraditional partners will strengthen your influence.
Empower Your Employees
Start with your employees. Employees know your story better than anyone and wield strong credibility. Employee advocacy can be one of your most powerful tools.
Equipping employees to tell your story in their own circles of influence will have a ripple effect. Most people look toward their family and friends for advice on the products they purchase and the causes they support. These conversations take place in person and on social media.
Embrace, don’t fear, the use of social media and empower your employees as important voices in your coalition.
Focus On Real People And Stories
Demonstrate impact through stories. Audiences crave genuine interaction, and stories are a universal language to inspire, encourage and motivate audiences.
Talk to colleagues and internal and external stakeholders to identify people willing to share their experiences. Create a database of these potential storytellers. The story of one person can be more powerful than anything else. I share an example of this in my book:
An advocacy group I was working with in Florida scheduled a meeting with the chairman of the last committee assigned to a bill before it would move to the floor of the Legislature. Due to unfortunate timing, the chairman only had three minutes to speak while en route to the committee meeting. Instead of sharing facts and figures, we shared the story of “Gary” and the impact the legislation would have on him. Minutes later, as we took our seats in the committee room, the chairman began, “Now committee members, let me tell you a story about my friend, Gary.”
The legislation passed unanimously.
Make Sharing Easy
Make it easy for coalition members to share a consistent message by issuing internal calls to action, distributing messaging and graphics and encouraging stakeholders to be actively involved. Moore, working with the Florida Sheriff’s Association, changed the trajectory of Amendment 10 in Florida by mobilizing the state’s constitutional officers.
We developed messaging for op-eds, social media, rack cards and other assets that were distributed to every constitutional officer (sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, clerk of court and supervisor of elections) in 67 counties. As a result, these officials were prepared to deliver a compelling story at any time and conducted thousands of meetings and speaking engagements.
Help coalition members stay on message by providing tools and resources they can use in all of their communications.
Play The Long Game
Whether your goal is to change public policy or break into a new market for your business, you have to play the long game. Success in coalition building means taking a step back and developing a one-, two- or even three-year plan with incremental steps leading to your goal.
Coalition building requires people who are willing to reach across aisles to find common, actionable ground. That can seem like a radical notion in today’s world, but few things are more effective than a diverse group of individuals and organizations speaking with one voice. That’s still possible, and it’s still powerful.