Deep Dive Breakout 1

Thursday, August 2, 2018


Coalition building can be like herding cats. That’s why we’ve enlisted the best cat herders in town to outline the strategies they employ to forge strong alliances, discourage disruption, and direct focus to the common goal.

Notes from the session:

What is the benefit of joining a coalition for your organization?

  • Speaker 1
    • PAC fundraising is traditionally a segmented world, especially with an organization that represents various fields of physicians.
    • There are about 30 organizations in their coalition, all of whose fields are assigned different PAC fundraising events in a “fantasy draft.”
    • At coalition-based fundraising events, only topics about their field are ever discussed, which helps each group build their stature overall.
  • Speaker 2
    • At a small 501(c)(3) organization, being in a coalition allows them to advance their goals more effectively.
    • It broadens their scope of work, too: Allows them to jump into specific fields that they normally might not, but also to focus on their own field as other groups take care of different issues.
    • At a small organization without certain resources, it can allow you to be helpful in many highly specialized ways.
  • Speaker 3
    • Coalitions allow you to compound the exposure of the issue you want to make an impact on.
    • Coalitions allow you to combine the resources of everyone to get the word out.
    • At a federal government agency, they can’t personally lobby or be seen aligned with groups that have certain products or partisan viewpoints, but joining a coalition allows them to piggyback on groups that can.
      • It allows them to accomplish goals and be active in fields they normally aren’t able to on their own.
    • Many of the groups in their coalitions have more specialized knowledge than them.
  • Speaker 4
    • Coalitions help them better and more clearly explain to elected officials what they do.
    • Coalitions also help mitigate the inherent bias against the “bad corporation” public image. Being part of a coalition allows them to be seen as part of a broader, not necessarily profit-based movement.

What do you consider before joining a coalition?

  • What’s the message, goal, and agenda? The coalition has to align with their group’s mission and recommendations.
  • It’s also important to look at who else is on the coalition.
    • The team needs to have a sense of legitimacy and good reputation.
    • There are also political considerations, meaning they cannot join a coalition with particularly partisan organizations.
    • Their group may decide to not be full-fledged members, but rather observers who can provide support but not be super involved.
  • It is important to think about how the people you’re joining will react to different issues.
  • Important to think critically about how much you can rely on others

How do you manage the return on investment in coalition work?

  • Definitely ask what the resources required to join and maintain are going to be.
  • How much are you putting into it; what are your goals; can you accomplish them; are you going to be doing the heavy lifting? In some coalitions, that can be worth it. But in many, that level of work isn’t going to be worth it.

Can you share a time you have played a unique role in a coalition?

  • Speaker 1
    • They were a member of a trade issue coalition and worked within the existing trade association to create a coalition.
    • An advantage was that they already knew the teams, the big players, and the issues.
    • This allowed them to start out already able to efficiently use resources within the companies and broader coalition — everyone brought equal resources to the table.
    • This gave them a great source of material to use very quickly.
    • However, some coalitions don’t actually care about the issues of individual organizations and only want to fill a roster as a broad show of power. In reality, they may want to run the show without input from their base.
      • Requires the question of “why do they want us to join this?”
  • Speaker 2
    • Their group only gets asked to join coalitions for their name recognition because their name provides legitimacy.
    • They get a lot out of this partnership because their coalition partners are the stakeholders that can really get an important message out in ways that their federal agency cannot.
  • Speaker 3
    • Originally thought that their organization was trying to pull in too many groups. However, It sometimes takes a lot of investment at a micro level to make a group bigger and to amplify small voices.
    • Lesson learned is that you shouldn’t give up too early.

Federal vs. State coalitions

  • State groups often want to do small, community-specific events and initiatives, which can present a few small conflicts of interest.
  • It’s important to know when to step back a bit and let the state chapters take over and handle things.
  • Remember, when speaking to legislators, having an interest in a state isn’t as compelling as being from a state.
  • Make sure that what’s happening at the state level reflects the national goal. Be careful of state chapters taking strategies that the national group is uncomfortable with.

What have you done to contribute when having limited resources?

  • Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and do the majority of the difficult labor and play mediator in order to bring the big spenders & players together to make the change happen.
  • Coalitions don’t need to be named, branded, or “invested” in. They can just be teams that work together informally to accomplish small goals.
  • It’s important to have a clear goal, and then regular status/progress checks throughout the year to make sure that everyone is doing their part, that goals are being met, and progress is being made.
  • It’s okay to bow out. You have to know when the group is no longer going where you want; it’s important from the outset to know what the group will be asking of you and what your group will be committed to. Ask a lot of questions on the front end. Know the expectations