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How to build a diverse coalition

A graphic of people holding handsIn dialogue-to-change programs, it’s essential to bring people together who represent the diversity of viewpoints, backgrounds, and experiences in your community. To successfully recruit diverse participants and move to action, the program needs the leadership of a strong, diverse coalition.

 

Identify diverse groups

Before you invite anyone to join your coalition, think about people who are affected by the issue you’re trying to address. For example, a community organizing dialogues around the issue of increased violence might want to include police officers, residents (from youth to seniors) from the affected neighborhoods, social service providers, clergy, educators, elected officials and business owners from within the area.

There are many different kinds of diversity you’ll want to reflect in your coalition, including racial and ethnic diversity, age, education, income level, religion, occupation, neighborhood, and viewpoint on the issue. Include people who are connected to the issue professionally, but also local residents who have a stake in the issue. Throughout the process, keep asking, “Who is not yet at the table?”

Be sure to think about people who are not normally invited to the table. In your community, people from certain racial and ethnic groups or from certain neighborhoods may consistently be left out of important conversations. Make sure you have more than one person from those underrepresented groups on your coalition to ensure a power balance within the group.

 

Create a task list

The coalition members you recruit will be involved in the program through a variety of tasks. It’s important to have an idea of specifically what they’ll be doing before you ask them to join. That way, each member can choose a task that fits his or her available time, resources and skill sets.

Check out the planning checklist for coalitions to identify various tasks that coalition members will be responsible for. From that list, you can get an idea of the type of people you’ll need to recruit.

 

Create a simple pitch

Before you invite people to your coalition, create a simple pitch explaining why they should become involved and what you’re asking them to do. A good pitch describes the program in brief and says what you believe the program will accomplish in the community.

Think about how you will communicate this to different community groups. What do they care about?  How will this make their lives better? Help them see how getting involved in the dialogue-to-change program will advance their individual or their organization’s goal or meet their constituents’ needs.

Written materials should send a clear, straightforward message that people throughout the community will understand. Be sure to include contact information.

 

Recruit

The most effective recruitment method is a personal invitation. Consider one-on-one meetings, phone calls, emails, and letters. Most often, a combination of these works best. Ask members of the working group to use their connections to help reach a broad cross section of the community.

When inviting people you don’t know very well, send information about the program, but don’t count on a letter, email or text message alone. You’ll need to make follow-up phone calls so people will know you’re really interested in their participation.

Consider hosting a coalition-building meeting to make a pitch to a large number of potential members. You can do a short presentation, providing an overview of this dialogue-to-change approach and a chance to participate in a brief sample dialogue.

 

Host a sample dialogue

Participating in a sample dialogue is one of the strongest motivators for people to become involved.  It’s important for coalition members to take part in a dialogue circle before launching into the work. The experience will build relationships and trust, familiarize people with the process, and deepen their understanding of the issue.

With the guidance of a neutral facilitator, participants should begin with Session One in one of Everyday Democracy’s discussion guides, set ground rules, and follow the structure of the discussion guide.

Make sure everyone is fully engaged, and delay discussion about making this happen in the community until after the dialogues are completed. Make every effort to involve members of the core group in this activity, and be sure the group is as diverse as possible.

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Dialogue to Change

Our ultimate goal is to create positive community change that includes everyone, and we believe that our tools, advice, and resources will help foster that kind of change. Whether you’re grappling with a divisive community issue, or simply want to include residents’ voices in city government, the dialogue to change program can help community members take action and make their voice heard.