The Secret Sauce: How To Build An Effective Coalition

The Secret Sauce: How To Build An Effective Coalition

Putting together a winning team comprising multiple and varied stakeholders is a bit like making grandma’s spaghetti and meatballs—you need the “secret sauce” to make all the ingredients gel together properly.

Luckily for anyone looking to become a respected voice in the national debate, you don’t have to pry the recipe from Aunt Lulu’s stingy fingers to learn what goes in the secret sauce. Following a few easy steps is the surest way to making the perfect dish, if you will.
In my experience, the most important first step is to discuss and analyze your proposed group’s objectives. Too often, aligned organizations want to forge ahead to build their alliance without clearly defining their mission or how to achieve it.

What’s in the name is also critical.

Branding is important. We try to avoid words like “coalition for” or “coalition against.” They tend to sound too political and carry a negative connotation. Words like “partnership” and “alliance” resonate better with both the public and lawmakers.
Finding the right partners is also essential. Knowing your objectives from the outset helps determine what individuals, groups and organizations you want to recruit to your cause. For example, health-care companies want to bring nurses, doctors, patient advocates and provider groups on board. And don’t discount unlikely bedfellows. They make powerful partners and provide a great sound bite in the media.

Health care organizations have been particularly good at reaching out to organizations you wouldn’t naturally think might have a stake in their issue, such as labor groups, and bringing them into the fold to make well-rounded and effective alliances.
A key element of successful alliances is local involvement. Including grassroots, state and regional players, ideally in every state if you’re building a national coalition, goes a long way toward building credibility with lawmakers. Members of Congress respond better to “real people” who hail from their home state or district.

And how do you find those “real people”? Through the local and state partners you recruited. “Local, local, local” should be a mantra.

Think beyond the beltway.

Once the coalition is built and you have the right membership and the right objectives, it’s important to do some type of launch to introduce yourselves. We’ve organized on-the-ground press events and a variety of effective digital launches. Holding simultaneous events in multiple locations across the country makes a strong statement and a very effective launch. Also, don’t forget to design and launch a responsive website that is ready to push out content from Day 1. Constituencies need a place to get more information, and having a digital presence lends credibility and online “headquarters” for your effort.

720 worked with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and client Matthew Koch, vice president of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, to form the Partnership to Fuel America, a two-year, 13-state effort to build awareness about Canadian energy, specifically oil sands, to help demonstrate the importance of the Keystone XL pipeline.

“By all means we considered it a very successful effort,” Koch said. “We achieved the goals we set out to achieve.”

The Partnership to Fuel America ultimately included more than 300 organizations and businesses, many of which were local chambers of commerce, economic development corporations and small businesses, Koch says. The Partnership continues paying dividends. “We now talk to these people about other energy issues, such as coal and hydraulic fracturing,” he says. The former coalition members come to the Institute for information on myriad energy-related matters now, Koch adds.

Building alliances extends your congressional and state legislative reach beyond the states in which you have a natural presence. It grows your voice into new and varied constituencies. And, it powers grassroots from the national to the local level with local voices that help shape policy and the national debate on your issues. It’s a secret sauce we can and should all master, so go forth, add your ingredients and collaborate.

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