May 21, 2012

How to partner and form coalitions to grow impact

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10 easy steps to help you on your collaboration journey

Guest post by Susannah Vila

To achieve scale and grow impact for your cause, it sometimes make sense to collaborate with other social good organizations.

Creating partnerships — and possibly building a coalition — is likely to increase the amount of resources available to you and the impact you’ll make in the world. Work with everybody – from the public to allied groups to governments to corporations – and let everybody work with you.

Here are 10 quick steps to help you on your collaboration journey:

Set expectations and define goals

1The campaign that you’re bringing other activists and organizations into should be clearly defined and visible. They should understand why they’re joining forces with you. What do you want the final result to be? What are the steps you’ll take to get there?

Determine a time frame

2What is your timeline? Depending on how short or long term your campaign will be, you might want to create a more temporary council or group of some sort instead of a coalition.

Make a list of potential allies

3When you think about it, you may be surprised at how many allies you have in your community. Groups, institutions, businesses and individuals who share some of the same interests as you are all people who you could be working with. Make a list of possibilities.

Research projects they’re working on

4Once you’ve identified organizations with similar goals, research them. Take notes. Educate yourself before you contact anyone. Know the projects that the organization is working on, the projects it previously worked on, and how the organization may fit within your campaign.

Consider organizations with different perspectives

5Don’t neglect “strange bedfellows,” or people whose politics may differ from yours but whose goals may be aligned with those of your campaign in at least the short term. You may be surprised at how frequently diverse groups can come together over a single issue. For example, read about the ‘”strange bedfellows” campaign to fight telecom immunity.

You’re more likely to succeed if the group of people brainstorming your strategy and tactics is itself from a diverse background, as one of them is more likely to see a situation in a novel way and come up with a novel solution.

Make contact — and have a plan

6Make contact. Reach out to them using whatever form of communication (a visit, a phone call, an e-mail) you think is most appropriate based on the group’s access to and fluency with technology. Mention what you’ve learned in your research and why you think your goals and their goals overlap. You’ve already defined the steps that your campaign will consist of, so show them how they can fit into your timeline by presenting it in a clear and concise manner.

Tip!: A formal and public coalition can prove to be more trouble than it’s worth. Consider working in coordination with other NGOs in a more informal, implicit way.

Set up a meeting or event, then keep in touch

7Set up a meeting or event for everyone who has signed on to meet each other. Allow each person to talk about his or her project and discuss how the coalition is going to operate.

Then follow up. Get in contact again with the groups you met with to summarize the conversation you had and to emphasize the next steps.

Create a steering committee

8Create a steering group or coordinating committee made up of a small core of individuals who are willing and able to devote more time and energy than others. If you’re one of these people, accept your own leadership position. If you’re not in this group, support them where you can, and offer them your best advice. Let them make decisions for the group, so that your work can move forward efficiently.

Trust each other

9Trust one another. You’re in it together now, so a little trust and good faith will go a long way. To facilitate that trust, make it as easy as possible for everyone to be as transparent as possible. Use tools that are helpful for collaboration, like Google Docs. We like it because if anyone accesses the document while signed into Gmail, you can see that.

Create a shared calendar

10Create a collective calendar with each organization’s different meetings and events so that anyone can attend anyone else’s gatherings. Make sure no events conflict with each other!

Tip!: Consensus is incredibly hard to achieve. Consider loosening how you define it – can you declare consensus reached even if not 100 percent of your group agrees? Should you make a two-thirds rule? is a nonprofit dedicated to identifying, connecting and supporting grassroots digital activists from around the world. Follow them on Twitter @aym. This post originally appeared at Susannah’s last post for us was this 12-step guide on how to live-tweet an event.
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