Partnerships, Collaborations and Coalitions

Strength in numbers. It’s an age-old concept that is especially useful in today’s fragmented media environment.

Small, new or underfunded organizations have a hard time getting their voices heard on their own. But if they join together with similar groups, they can often command the same kind of attention as larger institutions with greater resources and longer track records.

Four categories of people are especially useful in collaborative efforts designed to reach the media and educate the public. They are all worth approaching for help in the early days of a collaboration:

  • Academic experts.  A special effort to recruit academic experts can create an informal speakers bureau to which journalists can turn for expert commentary and analysis. Note that the most credible,  and approachable,  academics may be those affiliated with a local  institution.
  • Business leadership roundtables. The business community is a key audience for many nonprofit and government outreach initiatives. To engage businesses in your cause, link your issues to their concerns about competitiveness, productivity, and workforce development, and encourage them to think  about ways to involve the private sector more in an attempt to reach  your goals.
  • Leaders of faith-based organizations.  Faith-based leaders are particularly credible when expressing the needed  “values ” arguments that underpin manhy successful media  efforts.
  • Community leaders.  Community leaders can use their own  networks to find individuals and families whose personal stories illustrate the need for particular policies.

Other candidates for collaboration include educators,  people working in local advertising or public relations firms, police forces, and social service/health care professionals.

No matter where they come from, the partners should share a clear set of goals from the beginning. The members of the collaborative should have an opportunity to express their preferences about involvement. Then the group as a whole can agree on specific expectations and timelines for completion. Every group’s contributions should be acknowledged at every step, especially at the end of the project.

One start-up activity that your collaboration or coalition can pursue is forming a Media Working Group. Begin by inviting groups that share your goals to send a representative to regular meetings, perhaps once a month, to share ideas and design specific strategies for media outreach. Also:

  • Keep the meetings to one or two hours.
  • If possible, serve food. It  improves turnout and send a strong message that these meetings are  important and worth the effort.
  • Make sure the staffers responsible for communications participate, and that each meeting review the most recent media activities.
  • Outline upcoming activities that might have a media angle.

If your groups are not strongly interested in media outreach,  an alternativer star-up acivity is forming a Collaborative  Research  Committee.   Even if they are media-oriented,  you can form a research  committee within the media working group.

There’s lots more about Capitalizing on the Power of Partnerships, including a major case stufy on learning disabilities, in the new edition of  Strategic Communications for Nonprofits.