Best Practices and Lessons Learned Along the Way

Build Coalitions (if possible) in good times. Don’t wait until there’s a critical issue facing your library. If your partners are already in place, it’s easier to mobilize in challenging times.

Be there when your partners need you. Coalitions require members to be there for each other even when the issue may not affect your library.

Choose unifying issues. The most effective coalitions come together in response to a common issue. Make sure the development of group goals is a joint process, done early in the formation of the coalition.

Understand and respect each group’s self interest. There must be a balance between the goals and needs of the coalition and those of the individual organizations.

Respect each group’s internal process. Understand and respect the differences among the groups.

Acknowledge and use the diversity of each group. Not everyone will always agree with the coalition’s actions, and sometimes the minority will be right. Make sure to take everyone’s opinion into account and to use diversity to energize discussion, rather than be a source of division.

Communicate openly and freely with everyone. Make sure that all lines of communication − within and among the coalition members, with the media, and with the community − are wide open. Open communication ensures that no one feels left out.

Focus on a single message as much as possible. Multiple messages are confusing and dilute your intent. Create a message that is succinct and easy for coalition members, legislators and stakeholders to remember.

Structure decision-making carefully. Finding consensus is very important when making decisions as a coalition. Every group must listen to each other, debate and discuss until they can find common ground.

Distribute credit fairly. Recognize the variability of contributions. Each of the member organizations has something to offer − volunteers, meeting space, funding, copying, publicity, etc. Each is important; be sure to acknowledge them.

Formalize your coalition. It is best to make explicit agreements. Make sure that everyone understands what their responsibilities and rights are. Being clear can help to prevent conflicts.

Use Engage to lobby for action to legislators, librarians and supporters. (

Create an emergency response committee. This committee is prepared to respond to political climate changes, media requests and the need to make decisions any time of the day or night. Keep issues from becoming emergencies.

Advocacy is a year-round effort. Your elected officials should not hear from you only at budget time.

Potential Challenges

Turf issues. Sensitivity about sharing work between individuals and organizations can be sensitive. Convince member organizations and individuals that working together will benefit them all.

Domination by one organization or group. Coalitions are diverse by definition, and this diversity is part of what makes them strong. Create a participatory atmosphere and encourage everyone to give their ideas and time so no one group dominates.

Losing focus. Coalitions must always keep in mind the community they are working to improve, and keep community concerns and needs at the forefront of their work.

Leadership issues. Coalitions demand a very special kind of collaborative leadership which can harness the strength of everyone involved. Cultivation of this leadership is important to success.

Coalition Building Homepage

Getting Started: A Step-By-Step Guide