GATE: Grassroots Advocacy Training Exchange

Grassroots Program Development

Working with Groups

Grassroots programs or networks can operate at any size. Some are merely a handful of people organizing to deal with a local education matter. Others can be an industry trade association with more than 100,000 members joining to block proposed legislation threatening their business. Each is a grassroots organization. Both can work independent of other groups or in coordination with groups which share the same or similar interests.

When your grassroots program chooses to work with one or more outside groups, the organization they form is labeled a "coalition". Coalitions have the potential to be far more powerful and more skilled than any single organization grassroots network acting alone. As the geographical size and complexity of an issue expands, the need to consider forming a coalition increases.

When considering forming a coalition, it is important to remember that coalitions require compromise. No two groups can be as unified in their thinking as one group is alone. Each group which joins a coalition agrees to sacrifice some of its preferences and accept some of their partner's preferences. This compromise increases the chance that together, the strength of numbers and geographical reach, will produce a greater probability of winning on any issue.

Forming a Coalition:

The most obvious method for forming a coalition is to identify other groups who share interests similar to yours. They may share all of your interest or only part of it. They may work in the same industry or a separate one which uses the same products or raw materials. Their position on an issue may fear environmental pollution or oppose the regulations to prevent pollution. However, as long as there is some common objective shared by the groups, potential exists to form a coalition.

The most powerful coalitions are often coalitions of "unlikes." These coalitions combine groups which are traditionally on opposite sides of most issues. Ignoring their differences, they agree to come together because they share at least one interest in common. When they agree to work together, that agreement sends a powerful signal to legislators, apppointed officials and staff. The signal is that on the current issue, these groups realize they need each other. They understand that combining their memberships will mean they have constituents, voters, consumers and citizens in a larger number of Congressional and/or state legislative districts. This fact alone provides the coalition with more coverage, more right to representation and more power.


A common concern for groups asked to join a grassroots coalition is how to maintain the confidentiality of their group's membership lists, legislative contacts and profile information. Privacy can be maintained for each group by permitting them to handle all internal mailing and contact for their organization. Or, if the size of the coalition is large enough to require an outside vendor, each group can require the vendor to sign a confidentiality agreement before the release of their data.

The four most difficult words for many people to speak are, "Will you help me?" People fear this question because they worry about having to help someone else in return. Grassroots organizations are formed because two or more people realize that they are not likely to succeed alone but may win if they work together. This reality is even more true for grassroots coalitions. Describing your grassroots goals and methods is a way of saying, "Will you help me?"



Kevin Gottlieb & Associates, Inc.
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Annapolis, MD 21403-0240
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