Coalitions have been used successfully in the United States to tackle a number of seemingly intractable problems. For communities that want to reduce their underage drinking problem, putting together a broad-based coalition can bring substantial dividends. In this Community How To Guide on Coalition Building , readers will learn the steps that bring together a diverse group of people in pursuit of a common goal.
Effective coalitions, however, require an effective leader and this booklet details what will be needed from the individual who coordinates the effort either as a full- or part-time staff person. Once that individual has been identified, the group can move forward in recruiting the appropriate members of the community. A coalition checklist is included in the Appendix that provides a list of every conceivable organization that may have an interest or stake in the underage drinking issue. To make the process easier, the checklist asks individuals to rate the importance or each group as well as the likelihood of the groups involvement.
Establishing a coalition can sometimes be easier than maintaining it. To assist communities in sustaining their underage drinking prevention coalition or organization, this booklet discusses ways to overcome obstacles and gives specific ideas on how to keep the effort going. In addition, the reader will learn how coalitions can support critical programs in the community including enforcement and education, thereby making the effort even more relevant to the key target groups.
Finally, the booklet details ways to market the coalition and provides concrete examples of how the coalition can communicate with the public and its members. Samples are provided for an organizational brochure and a newsletter.
Community How To Guide On COALITION BUILDING
Margaret Mead said it best: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed it is the only thing that ever has.
A coalition is an alliance of individuals, groups, parties, or states that come together, join forces, or form partnerships usually for a specific or common purpose. Bringing people together in pursuit of a common goal is how a comprehensive underage drinking prevention program starts. Forming a coalition to deal with the problem of underage drinking is neither a new nor radical idea. The traffic safety community has been using coalitions to deal with the problems of impaired driving and occupant protection for decades.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a good example of an effective coalition. MADD began with one enraged mother and expanded to become a group of ordinary people who helped change the way society views drunk driving. Before that time, many people did not think seriously about having one for the road. It was a badge of honor to see how many drinks a person could consume and still drive. That is not the case today and citizen activist groups like MADD, RID (Remove Intoxicated Drivers) and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) helped to make the difference. Impaired driving is now recognized as a crime and that is due to the coalitions who worked to change public perception, strengthen laws and increase enforcement.
Today, coalition organizers must think creatively when they organize an underage drinking prevention coalition. A broad-based coalition includes more than the traditional organizations that have a professional or personal interest in the issue such as youth, law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, educators and citizen activist groups.
Many other agencies, individuals and organizations also have a stake in underage drinking prevention and organizers should expand the circle of friends. Effective coalitions include members from the faith community, the military, civic groups, the YMCA, media outlets, Emergency Medical Services personnel, hospitals, physicians, trauma units, health insurance companies, treatment centers, neighborhood groups, an industry wellness council, the United Way and others.
Advantages of a Coalition
The number of people who are involved
A broad-based, grassroots coalition enhances credibility. One saying is especially appropriate for coalitions: It is easy to cut one blade of grass, but if you bind many blades together into a sheaf, they are very difficult to cut through. The more widespread support a project can demonstrate, the more seriously the effort is perceived. When the project demonstrates both widespread support and active involvement, opinion leaders, the media and the public begin to take the effort seriously and pay attention.
Implementation of varied activities and programs
Diverse participants provide diverse skills as well as access to important target populations, i.e. youth, the media, business, policymakers and others. Each coalition member or member organization can contribute their particular expertise or resources to facilitate activities by other members or by the coalition as a whole. They can help organize alcohol-free activities for youth, assist with training, recruit new members or volunteers, hand out flyers, or conduct a market survey. By working together, members often find they solve mutual problems. A representative from a local parent organization, for instance, may be able to provide parent support to plan, organize and implement an alcohol- and drug-free after prom or graduation party. By pooling resources, coalition members multiply opportunities.
Many groups or individuals get involved in coalitions because they want to meet other professionals for business or personal reasons. By their very nature, coalitions offer great networking opportunities. Effective networking also means coalition members can identify organizations that can fill a specific need, answer a question, facilitate an introduction or help to secure funds.
New ideas and energy to existing programs
Any program can get stale and die
out if it isnt re-energized with new people and new energy. A fresh perspective on the projects issue may be just what it is needed to get things moving again. Substance abuse prevention organizations, for instance, may require the shot in the arm that a broad-based program to prevent underage drinking can provide.
Good source of information and feedback
If a community wants to change behavior or attitudes, it is important to know what is going on in that community. One person, or even a small staff, cannot know everything that is relevant to their issue, including information about related programs and potential funding. A grassroots coalition can be the eyes and ears and provide important intelligence information. A wise coalition coordinator will solicit and coalesce the information available from individual members.
One good use of this information and feedback is in the completion of a thorough needs assessment on the nature and extent of underage drinking in the community. (See Community How To Guide on Needs Assessments and Strategic Planning .) Members of the coalition from traffic safety, law enforcement, the medical community, the schools and local government can each provide information about their area of expertise and make it faster and easier to complete this vital task.
Publicity for the program
A coalitions members should be ambassadors for the program, thus broadening the reach of its message and increasing the projects exposure. This is particularly important for a community-wide problem such as underage drinking. A coalition may want to provide a sample article to coalition members whose organizations have a newsletter or other publication and request that they publish it.
A distribution network
One of the challenges in implementing public information and education campaigns is distributing materials in the community. Most groups lack resources and staff to disseminate large amounts of information. Materials may be beautifully produced, but if they are unseen, they are valueless. Through their jobs and neighborhood connections, coalition members can serve as an effective network for dissemination.
- Employers can establish and implement company policies in support of a program. As a viable part of the community, employers can participate in community outreach efforts.
How To Form A Coalition
Forming a coalition sounds easy, but proper planning and knowledge can avoid problems in the future. Following are some suggested steps to follow in putting together a coalition.
1. Search the landscape
Before starting a coalition, determine whether similar organizations are already in existence in your community. For instance, the community may consider itself a Safe Community whose members may be the same as those sought for the underage drinking prevention effort. There are also many other foundation-funded coalitions in communities across the nation whose issues may focus on a variety of health-related activities. While they may not deal specifically with underage drinking, they may likely have common messages and objectives. Ask yourself these questions before you proceed:
- Should your coalition become part of an existing coalition?
2. Brainstorm ideas on potential participants
Ask three or four other individuals who are affiliated with the current organization or who are well connected in the community to participate in a brainstorming session. Consider inviting representatives from the target population to also participate. This session is designed to solicit names of individuals to contact. Who are the communitys key leaders? Who are the obvious stakeholders in the issue? Whose participation will be critical to the success of the effort? Are diverse populations of the community represented?
Sometimes coalitions can attain visibility and recruit members more quickly if they have a powerful champion. The champion may be a judge, political leader, business person, civic leader or member of the faith community, but they should be someone who is well respected and able to generate support for the new entity.
Appendix #1 is a Coalition Membership Checklist. which gives a list of the various organizations that could belong to a broad-based underage drinking prevention coalition. Use this checklist when brainstorming on potential members. It may also be used to assess the effectiveness of an existing underage drinking prevention project.
3. Determine staffing, budget, and resources
The person who manages the coalition is critically important. Coalitions without a staff person dedicated to managing their programs often fail. Whether it is a newly formed group or an existing organization taking on a new mission, coalitions need to be administered, programs need to be carefully implemented and coalition members need to be inspired to continue their work. Each coalition must determine how those tasks will be handled.