May 4, 2012
When an association faces an issue or seeks to accomplish a goal, there are times when you hope to move mountains and effect change. The problem is that there are times when, frankly, you’re just not big enough or wield a large enough sword to move those mountains.
In the absence of endless financial and staff resources, what’s an association executive to do? That’s where building a coalition comes in. The fact of the matter is that numerous trade associations and affiliated organizations stand a much better chance of impacting a government agency or other regulatory body than one association trying to go it alone.
So how can you leverage relationships to effect change when your association does not have the breadth to go it alone? Here are some tips for effecting change through coalitions:
- Nurture relationships throughout your industry: You never know when you might need them! Unless we hide under very large rocks, association managers develop relationships with other associations and stakeholders in our respective industries. In my own realm of building product manufacturer-oriented associations, we have relationships with complementary building material associations (such as components of a larger system), contractor associations and labor unions, competitive material associations, test labs and product certification groups, government agencies, and, well, you get the picture.
- It’s better to lead than to follow – If there’s an issue you think would be better served by a coalition, reach out. Ignoring a potential problem in your industry rarely makes it go away.
- Overcome divisions. While we may have contentious exchanges with other associations over public positions, product marketing, or who knows what, just as the members inside our trade associations have from time to time, there are also times when we have concerns that transcend our own universe that these other entities share.
- Build consensus. Ensure that all participants in the coalition are on the same page regarding process and end game. This is not always easy; your association may have some very strong feelings on an issue, but may have to tone those down for the sake of bringing other associations into a coalition. All of the participants need to agree to a set of guiding principles for the approach to the issue, and to the desired outcome.
- Set ground rules for the administration of the coalition. Define who will be the record keeper and the key point(s) of contact. Keep timely meeting notes and minutes.
- Abide by Federal antitrust laws. Conduct antitrust policy reviews and make sure your coalition is following the rules.
- Establish a review process internally in your association for coalition positions and actions. If your coalition does not establish a specific charter or set of bylaws for the coalition, the participants in the coalition will remain under the bylaws of the organization they are representing.
- Work collectively to get your association – and your allies – the win!
In the end, your association can deliver the results that its members expect. But as the association managers, we sometimes need to think outside the box about the best way to accomplish that. Your investment in building relationships and a strong reputation in your industry can make coalition building a piece of cake. Do you have any other tips for building coalitions? Share yours in the comment box below!