Identify the Unifying Issue
When building or joining a coalition, the first step should be to identify the issue that unifies the coalition and motivates every member to take action. When joining a coalition, it is important to have a clear understanding of the main issue area the coalition is advocating for before joining. Coalitions tend to be more effective when they focus on a specific issue so that all organizations involved have a clear idea of what the policy goal is and what they are advocating for. Consult your PTA’s positions on certain issues before joining to make sure you don’t join a coalition that contradicts your policy goals or position statements.
Also, make sure you know your limitations for supporting certain issues the coalition may advocate for before joining. A coalition may advocate for a broad issue that your PTA supports—such as increased investments in education—but in certain instances the coalition may advocate for a specific piece of legislation or policy that falls outside of, or is not aligned with, your PTA’s main policy priorities. To make navigating tricky situations easier, create a game plan for how to deal with challenges like these in advance.
Be Mindful of Other Organizations
Remember, when joining a coalition, you are joining a team of advocates. As such, it is important to do your research on the other organizations in the coalition. When researching other organizations in the coalition, you should focus on finding out the following:
Whether the organization is reputable
- The organization’s positions on issue areas that you advocate for
- How well the organization gets along with community members and policy makers
As you’re doing your research about coalition partners, here are a few tips:
Look into the portfolios and expertise of the organization's members
- Check out the organization's websites, materials, resources and other partners
- Look to see if the coalition membership is well-rounded and represents diverse groups in pursuit of the same goal
If the other organizations in the coalition are reputable, have positions that align with your policy goals, and get along well with community members and policy makers, you can move forward with joining the coalition.
You should also keep in mind the size of a coalition before joining. Smaller coalitions may require more of your time and effort since there are fewer organizations in the coalition, but they can also provide an opportunity to take a leadership role on an issue that is a priority for your PTA.
Larger coalitions have more organizations sharing work, which may decrease the burden on individual coalition partners. However, with more members, it may take longer to for the coalition to make decisions and may require more compromises on coalition activities.
Determine Your Level of Engagement
Each organization in a coalition will have a different level of engagement. Some organizations will take on leadership roles within the coalition while other organizations will be less engaged. Taking on a leadership role in a coalition may mean that you are in charge of the coalition’s email listserv or that you are responsible for drafting coalition letters to policymakers. You will have a different role in every coalition you join. If a coalition’s main focus is a priority issue area for your PTA, you should consider being heavily engaged in the coalition and taking a leadership role. If the coalition’s main issue is a secondary concern for your PTA, you should consider being more of a supporter of the activities of the coalition rather than of a driver of the work. You do not have to be heavily engaged and a leader of every coalition you join.
When determining your PTA’s engagement level in a coalition, it is important to take into consideration your PTA’s capacity, the expectations for your level of involvement in the coalition, and any monetary costs to join the coalition. If you are short on staff or volunteers, you may only want to be heavily engaged in coalitions that advocate for a main policy priority for your PTA. However, if you have enough staff and volunteers to support your work within a coalition, you can consider being more involved and taking on leadership roles in additional coalitions.
Before joining, make sure you and your PTA’s leadership have a clear understanding of what you are committing to as part of the coalition.
Identify Coalition Mission and Goals and Create Guidelines for Advocacy
Once you have joined a coalition, you should get together with the other organizations as a group to decide what you would like to accomplish over a specified period of time. Your goal could be anything from ensuring a certain piece of legislation is passed to increasing awareness about an issue. You should discuss a set of goals and objectives for your coalition to meet with a certain timeframe and track your progress towards those goals and objectives. All participants in the coalition should have a clear understanding of what the coalition is setting out to achieve and the role each coalition member will be taking to achieve the coalition’s goal(s).
You should also discuss guidelines for advocacy with other organizations in the coalition. These guidelines should include information about how decisions will be made on behalf of the coalition and how organizations involved in the coalition will be informed about decisions.
When setting up advocacy guidelines, make sure your coalition develops an operating structure that is inclusive to all types of organizations and approval processes. Some organizations may have fewer resources and may not be able to devote as much time to the coalition’s advocacy efforts as other organizations. Or, some organizations may have lengthy approval processes they must go through before signing on to letters or making public statements about an issue. It is important to take into consideration the structure of the organizations in your coalition when developing advocacy guidelines.
Once you have joined a coalition and discussed goals and guidelines, it is time to advocate as a coalition! When advocating, the coalition should establish clear parameters for the type of advocacy activities the coalition will engage in. Some types of advocacy to discuss include whether the coalition will hold meetings with policy makers, write sign on letters or hold public events.
This is not an exhaustive list of advocacy activities; feel free to come up with your own advocacy actions as a coalition. And be sure to keep National PTA in the loop about your PTA’s advocacy efforts! Share your advocacy experiences with National PTA’s Department of Government Affairs by sending an email to GovtAffairs@PTA.org.