December 12, 2018
 
Field Guide to Building Community Coalitions Offers Practical Advice

Coalitions are complex undertakings for which a how-to manual could spell the difference between success and failure. Luckily, one exists in the newly published Ignite! Getting Your Community Coalition “Fired Up” for Change .

Authored by Frances Dunn Butterfoss, a nationally recognized expert on coalition building and organizational development, this highly accessible handbook, which she calls a field guide, provides analytical tools, check lists, and other resources that will better enable novice and experienced coalition builders alike to build enduring, effective alliances.

The title, Ignite!, refers to the campfire analogy which Butterfoss uses to state her case: There are specific steps one must take before building a campfire, or coalition, when building it, and sustaining it.

She starts by asking the fundamental question—Is a coalition right for your community work?—and offers check lists to help the reader arrive at an answer. For example: Do other organizations see this issue as a priority? Are organizations willing to work together on the issue? Are potential members committed to work together irrespective of funding commitments?

Just as campfires require the right tinder, kindling, and fuel wood, so, too, do coalitions require the right structure, organization, and resources. Potential partners need to agree on what collaboration means for them and what it will accomplish. A vision and mission statement for the coalition, therefore, is essential.

She writes: “A clear vision and mission generate support and awareness for the coalition, identify partners, reduce conflict, and minimize time costs and distractions from appropriate actions,” noting that “The process of developing the mission and vision may be as critical as theproduct itself.”

Butterfoss is an ardent advocate for putting things in writing, whether by-laws or responsibilities of coalition members (for which she provides templates), memorandums of understanding between partner organizations, goals, or meeting minutes.

What makes this short (150-page) and pithy book particularly useful are the frameworks Butterfoss provides to address critical issues. Case in point: A 12-point check to help coalitions decide which issues to tackle.

All fine and good, but what about when things go wrong? True to the spirit of the book, Butterfoss provides an exhaustive tool that identifies symptoms of problems, and offers solutions that can be employed to address each. It’s like having an expert process consultant at your side – someone who has worked in all phases of building and sustaining coalitions who can offer guidance to keep yours moving forward.

Building coalitions is not easy and not for the faint hearted, but the end result can transform communities for the better. This book will help coordinators and leaders develop the skills to build and sustain effective coalitions.

Ignite! Getting Your Community Coalition “Fired Up” for Change is available from AuthorHouse.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy

Posted: December 2013



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