Principle Consulting Director Jane Cox wrote this blog ahead of last year’s NCVO Campaigning Conference. We will be there again this year.
In these divided and divisive times, shouldn’t we be making more of an attempt to work together? Time to find some kindred spirits and coalesce? In the spirit of harmony and unity, here’s the Principle Consulting guide to working in coalition.
What makes a coalition?
A coalition is simply a temporary alliance for a combined action or shared ambition. It means teaming up with someone who wants the same as you do. You don’t have to agree on everything, just this one thing. And you don’t necessarily have to share the same reasons for doing it. In fact, it often makes it more interesting if you don’t. But more on that later.
Why build a coalition?
We all know there’s strength in numbers, that many hands make light work, and we’ve seen the old Unison advert with the ant and the bear, but have you given much thought to the strategic uses of coalition working?
The most obvious one is the sharing of skills, contacts and experiences – your organisation may have a network of committed supporters, but do you know the right people in Westminster? Your press team could be pals with half of Fleet Street but do you have the evidence base and case study stories to make your case? Or maybe you know what policy needs to be changed from your charity’s work on the ground but would benefit from authoritative, supportive voices from relevant professional associations and bodies.
Coalitions don’t have to be big. In fact, sometimes just a few organisations that bring different perspectives together to add credibility and make a more rounded case for policy change can be the most effective.
Unexpected alliances help win over those who may ignore a campaign led by the ‘usual suspects’. The additional reach of these different groups is hard to quantify and is undoubtedly eye-catching. Stonewall and Paddy Power are a particularly good example.
When working with Landmine Action (to get the UK to sign up to the international Convention on Cluster Munitions) we found former senior members of the armed services made particularly good advocates.
The costs of coalition working
It’s tempting to think all those pooled resources may lighten the load for cash-strapped charities, but you must take into account the time and effort it takes to build a coalition versus just going it alone. And don’t forget all the tea and biscuits that will be needed for those round-table meetings.
Building networks is time consuming, especially for small teams and organisations. And you will also need to ask whether building alliances with certain groups could be perceived as watering down your message or weakening your brand. If you can overcome these issues then I’d say it’s always worth the initial outlay because starting a tradition of working together will reap benefits for future campaigns.
Making it work
‘Egos and logos’ is a description I’ve heard used to describe the tensions in some big coalition campaigns, but it doesn’t have to be like this. Ultimately it comes down to trust; good communication; a clear, shared, objective; and agreement on how to get where you want to be.
Sounds easy doesn’t it? Well it’s not, but if done properly it’s a wonderful thing. Coalition working can be effective, efficient and enjoyable for everyone involved.
With a government preoccupied with negotiating Brexit and an opposition only just managing to keep itself together, charities will have to try ever harder to make their voices heard. Prioritising key issues and joining forces will, in many cases, be the best chance they have.