Joining, Building, and Making Coalitions Work

PTA is an organization whose membership is resourceful, creative, and innovative. Based on its careful studies of issues and concerns relating to children and youth, PTA has been successful in working with coalitions and influencing legislators and decision-makers at the local, state, and national levels.

In recent times, PTA’s involvement with coalitions—groups which share similar goals and objectives—has yielded policy action. Since there is no need to “reinvent the wheel” or to “go it alone,” PTAs are encouraged to join coalitions when, by doing so, there is a greater potential to produce a successful outcome.

A coalition is made up of individuals representing groups that:

  • Have a stated or similar position;
  • Share a mutual concern; and
  • Are interested in working together toward an action-oriented goal.

The coalition may be a permanent, ongoing organization or a temporary alliance that can be disbanded once the goals have been reached or abandoned.

Coalitions bring together groups with similar concerns and objectives to combine their efforts, their resources, and the individual skills of their members in working toward a common goal and rallying broader support for an issue, whether that is legislative action, project planning and implementation, or publication and distribution of needed information.

If the coalition wants to make a statement that is not compatible with PTA policies or positions, the PTA should vote to withdraw from the coalition. Following this vote, a formal letter should be sent to the chairman of the coalition stating why the PTA no longer can be a member.

Joining a Coalition

Is there an existing coalition that addresses the concern or issue identified? If so, discuss the matter with the PTA board. If the board members agree to consider joining the coalition, meet with the spokesperson(s) to make certain the coalition’s goals and philosophy are consistent with those of the PTA.

Contact key people whose organizations already belong to the coalition. Learn more about its specific activities and procedures. Discover what type of involvement is required. Share the information with PTA leaders. If their reactions are positive, bring the question of joining the coalition to the PTA membership. If the PTA membership approves participation, contact the coalition leadership, request that PTA be included, and indicate what the PTA has to offer.

While PTAs do not join coalitions in the sense of becoming dues-paying participants, they should be prepared to offer in-kind services, encouraging their members to share their time and talents, and to contribute volunteer hours to the project at hand.

PTAs do not contribute to the coalition’s general fund but may spend specific amounts to help cover costs of materials and postage. Members of other participating groups may be empowered to contribute financially through their organizations. Coalitions welcome PTA’s involvement, because they recognize it has a built-in network for communication and organizing.

Building Coalitions

The PTA board should meet and discuss the benefits of building a coalition to determine which organization to approach to serve on a steering committee:

  • What is the organization’s stake in the issue?
  • Is the organization well-respected and recognized in the community?
  • Has PTA worked successfully with the organization in the past?
  • Is the management/leadership style compatible with that of PTA?

Consider which groups might be approached to join and participate in a coalition: community service clubs; religious or ethnic organizations; business associations (chamber of commerce); labor and civil rights groups; education associations; organizations dealing with health, safety, disaster preparedness, environmental issues, etc.

Bring diverse groups together to address issues. This lends credibility and strength to the PTA’s efforts. While differences of opinion are bound to exist, a sense of cooperation and congeniality among the participants is essential to the success of any coalition.

Secure the PTA association’s approval to be involved in the coalition.

Making the Coalition Successful

Establish a process to identify mutual goals.

Ensure that each group maintains its own identity and autonomy and protects its own self-interest, as the coalition collectively seeks to attain goals that individual groups might not be able to achieve alone.

Understand that total consensus in every area prior to action is not a requirement.

Recognize that internal group conflict is inevitable as part of the process of coalition-building and should be dealt with constructively.

Strike a balance in types of participating groups in order to promote an atmosphere of openness, provide a sense of inclusiveness, encourage equal participation, and prevent one group’s domination over another.

Accept and deal with differences in values, attitudes, and styles of communication.

Realize that appropriate negotiating and bargaining are basic to the successful operation of any coalition.

Selecting Coalition Representatives

There are several considerations when selecting PTA representatives for a coalition. The representative(s) should:

  • Be willing and able to give the time required;
  • Reflect self-confidence, believe in the tasks at hand, and project positive attitudes;
  • Demonstrate effective communication skills, including speaking and listening abilities, and sensitivity to the feelings of other group members;
  • Be open-minded rather than judgmental;
  • Be knowledgeable about PTA and interested in how other participating groups work;
  • Remain focused on—and not stray from—the issue at hand;
  • Work well under pressure;
  • Handle questions and deal with antagonistic audiences;
  • Refrain from arguing with adversaries, realizing that stimulating discussion is always in order; and
  • Share personal expertise and appreciate the talents of others in the group.

Tips for Success

Plan for meetings and discussions.

Be sure everyone understands what PTA represents and the purpose for the proposed coalition.

Encourage each organization to share its goals and philosophy, its operational style, and its potential capabilities for assuming a fair share of the workload.

Jointly prepare an “action plan” with time lines and a date for completion of each phase of the plan (see Action Plans).

Coalition Leaders Should

Keep a low profile and recognize the needs and the resources of the participants;

Analyze and appreciate the different personality types and leadership styles involved;

Help discourage divisive competition, and instead, encourage creative competition and collaboration between sub-groups or sub-task forces;

Sustain the spirit of the members by somehow keeping the interest high during periods when “nothing much is happening”; and

Help the group determine the organizational style that feels most comfortable and that is best suited to achieving the purpose set forth.

The key components of successful coalitions are cooperation, collaboration, and consideration. When people with good intentions work well together, mutual goals become infinitely easier to attain. You can make it work for your PTA, too!

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