Since early 1990s, community coalition building has made progressive inroads for securing federal funding for community based projects. Building capacity within partner organizations and collaborative sectors strengthens relationships and provides a solid foundation to identify and solve the most pressing community problems. Community coalitions can be the answer that is sitting on the lap of organizations that are seemingly struggling to keep vital programs alive, while the push for greater collaboration is embedded within the verbiage of federal funding announcements and requirements. Many organizations do not understand how to begin building a coalition, while others choose not to participate, which ultimately places unnecessary burdens and limitations for organizational and programmatic sustainability.
Simple Steps for Coalition Building
Times are changing for all of us within service organizations because monies are lacking, missions have changed, and grant competitiveness has increased. The following are a few simple steps that will help organizations begin the process of building a coalition that is effective in reducing risks within a target population, as well as increasing the chances of receiving a significant federal grant.
Know Your Community
1. Know your community. If I were hired as your consultant to build capacity of your organization, the first question I would ask you is “how well do you know your community?” Many times people underestimate their knowledge and connections within, thinking they have all the information they need to be able to address and meet the needs of those they serve. But the reality is, after more than 20 years in this business of building coalitions, most cannot answer the most common questions that grant funders want to know that proves the need for funding. Community coalitions can help to bridge this gap of knowledge through information sharing and building trust and rapport with those that are willing to share what they know for the benefit of increasing their own capacity.
Start and End With Relationships
2. Meet and greet people, and then share with them what you need.Capacity building has a very particular starting point that cannot ever be overlooked. There is only one first step that keeps its place in line always...relationship building. Community coalitions start and end with relationships. So the second question I would ask as a consultant is “how well do you know the people and organizations within your community?”
Most organizations overestimate their relationships and their knowledge of other programs within the target population or service area. It is imperative to know what others are doing and to make long lasting friendships within all sorts of sectors within the community.
- Do you know and have a relationship with the Chief of Police or Sheriff?
- Do you know and have a relationship with school superintendents, principals, teachers, and school nurses?
- Do you know and have a relationship with hospital and medical administrators and professionals?
- How close of a relationship do you have with your local legislators, appointed and elected?
- How healthy is the relationship with the media, are they invited to be a part of the coalition and are they familiar with what your organization does and the reach within the community that exists?
This is the same question for business leaders, parents and youth, service providers, including program directors, counselors, first responders, magistrates, civic groups and fraternal organizations, and the faith community.
A strong community coalition seeks to know and connect with their community on a level that is unprecedented in their space and time. Capacity building means that an organization or community is dedicated to a plan of action to build long lasting collaborative relationships with those they work with, whether it is indirectly or side-by-side. Capacity building starts with people and then it moves on from there to other resources and assets.
A Strategic Plan
3. Have a strategic plan. A strategic plan is a map that tells an organization and its stakeholders where they have come from, what they believe and why, and where they want to go. Most programs do not have a formal strategic plan, they do not have a map. Usually, programs start from a passionate person who sees a need that they care about, and they want to effect some sort of positive change. Without a plan, any mission will fail ultimately for the lack of direction and specific strategies to address a problem. Community coalitions bring perspectives from the people they serve as well as from internal organizational and professional knowledge and skills from those that provide. With a multisectoral approach, a strategic plan will help communicate the needs and solutions to grant funders, stakeholders, and potential donors.
4. Develop a key leader board or advisory board. Community coalitions need experienced professionals and decision makers at the helm. They must be those that have the ability to gain access to information, designate budgetary allotments, as well as have the influence to champion a cause. They are never to be token members that sit there on a board just to have a title...those times have gone by the wayside as more funders want to see how communities are effectively using their key decision makers for sustaining the programs they are being asked to fund. Grant funders want to see stability, diversity, cultural competency, and higher levels of commitment and involvement. In their eyes, it helps to increase the probability of the funding to have greater impact and long-term sustainability.
About Shawnee: Shawnee Bigelow, PhDc, MBA has taught governmental and organizational leaders throughout the world that address capacity building and sustainability for community coalitions. She has worked in the field of coalition building for over 20 years with significant success. She is a professional international consultant and President of Starling Company, LLC providing clients with cutting edge strategies to help build capacity and sustain programs and organizations. For more information, please visit The Starling Company or connect with her on LinkedIn.