Coalition. We hear the word a lot. Coalition of the Willing. Christian Coalition. Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Coalition Against Gun Violence. 25 million hits for the word on Google. Why are there so many? What are the benefits? Disadvantages? How does an organization decide whether to join?
Coalitions are a group of like-minded people aligning themselves long-term to meet common goals. Nonprofits form coalitions to provide services, to educate the public, or to advocate for public policy. But before jumping into a relationship with another organization, it's important to think through all the implications to ensure you are maximizing the benefits to your stakeholders.
Even the most lackadaisical reader will have noticed the word “potential.” There is one simple reason for this - I am a big fan of coalitions, and all the following issues can be avoided with proper planning and communication.
After an organization weighs all the benefits and potential disadvantages of a coalition, it may decide that a coalition is not the best strategy and, instead, a better option would be an alliance (which is a looser association than a coalition) or a network (which is more short-term than a coalition). I am as big a fan of these types of associations as well, because any partnership will increase the number of people and ideas involved and may decrease costs for individual organizations. Therefore joining any well-managed partnership will help maximize a nonprofit's benefits for its stakeholders – which is what mission-based organizations are all about.
I love figuring out how things work. I read instruction manuals for new gadgets - paying special attention to the "troubleshooting" section so I can anticipate potential problems. I drive my chiropractor nuts asking questions about why he is adjusting "this" joint to help "that" pain. And although I suspect she is exaggerating, my mom swears that my first word was “why?”
It's this passion for understanding what makes things tick that led me to the field of organizational development. That, and working for nonprofits for most of my life. Nonprofits fulfill a vital place in our society – by providing services, educating the public, or being a voice for others. But like other types of organizations, sometimes nonprofits are inefficient, and I wanted to understand not only why this was happening, but how to change it. When nonprofits are overwhelmingly underfunded and understaffed and very mission driven, how do you convince them that spending time on self-reflection and planning now will increase efficiency in the long run? How to make them understand that good intentions do not exempt them from being a sound organization - having structures, policies, and processes?
I find its best to focus on the long-term gains of an organizational assessment and strategic planning process. What future pain will disappear by making an adjustment now? What problems reoccur that the organization should be able to anticipate? With smaller staff, polices and processes become more important because nonprofits have high turn-over rates that result in inefficiencies if the organization isn't structured to deal with this. In addition, tighter budgets mean nonprofits have less wiggle room for mistakes and a greater need to maximize limited resources. In the worst-case scenario, lack of clear policies can result in scandal. Nonprofits need to take the time to ask themselves the following types of questions:
By taking the time to think through these questions and undertake a thorough organizational assessment, a nonprofit can begin to determine where it excels in meeting its mission – and where it can improve. Yes, it takes time to time examine the “why” in the short-run in order to identify gaps and develop structures, processes, and policies and develop a strategic plan. But in the long-run, this extra time will result in increased efficiencies for the nonprofit, which translates to better services to its stakeholders. And that is the "why" we all work for nonprofits, isn't it?