I have a soft spot for Volunteers with Tom Hanks and John Candy because it's one of the rare movies about the Peace Corps and where Tom Hanks doesn’t portray the “good guy.” Instead, Hanks plays Lawrence Bourne III, a wealthy playboy with a gambling problem who accidentally joins the Peace Corps while escaping his bookie. Candy plays Tom Tuttle, a do-gooder volunteer who also lives in the village where Bourne is assigned. At one point, Bourne explains his lackadaisical attitude towards making a difference in one short line, "It's not that I can't help these people. It's just I don't want to."
I spend many evenings a month with different voluntary organizations in my neighborhood. I enjoy meeting my neighbors and learning about what they care about, but I often wonder why it’s the same dozen or so people. Most of my neighbors want positive change in the community and believe it's important to be part of the democratic process, so why don't they show up? Can a nonprofit somehow figure out who is likely to volunteer and who isn't? What makes someone stop being a Bourne and start being a Tuttle?
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.