Welcome to the Alliance Toolkit!
Movement Strategies Center (MSC) has been active in building, supporting and developing alliances since 2001. We have learned a lot along the way and have created the Movement Building series as a way to share stories, common challenges, and best practices, and to help to facilitate critical conversations about building movements and building alliances. This paper is part of that series and focuses on structure and introduces culture as two key areas of alliance building that follow after your alliance has established its vision and purpose.
Alliance Culture & Structure Principles
1. Form follows function.
- a. Create structure to best achieve the collective vision, purpose, and strategy of the alliance.
- b. Construct processes to serve forward movement; avoid overprocessing or over-input at the cost of timely decisions.
- c. Smaller groups make faster and sharper strategy.
2. Balance energy spent internally and externally.
- a. The ultimate outcomes that alliances strive for are external. Too much time spent on internal processes can lead to not enough energy left for external impact. Too little time spent on internal process (relationship building, structures, etc.) can lead to weak and disjointed external impact.
- b. More executive leadership, levels of approval, and decisionmaking processes means more time and energy spent coordinating internally.
3. Movement building is about people.
- a. Cultivating a culture of trust and relationship is essential to a well functioning alliance.
- b. Choose members and representatives based upon the individuals involved. Do they embody the qualities one would want to see in the alliance as a whole? While political and demographic considerations are important, real connection with people who are able to work out conflict, build trust, and partner well will create a solid core for an alliance.
- c. There needs to be alignment politically and relationally between the key individuals. This does not mean they need to be the same. Rather, they need to have alignment on the ultimate vision of the work as well as ability to hold tension and work through tough issues.
4. Build awareness of and action for the Whole (the We).
- a. See and tap into the unique strengths that each member brings.
- b. Be transparent about organizational self-interest. Self-interest is not a bad thing; it needs to be put out on the table in order for all to find points of synergy where the group enables the fulfillment of the individual members.
- c. Since alliances can be big, there should not be a requirement for 100% consensus before acting; rather, seek to provide leadership through action and support those who are ready to move to do so and bring others along. Critical mass.
- d. Coordinating leadership: It is important for the leadership to see, for the whole of the alliance, with the lens of the “we” instead of through primarily organizational self-interest. While each organization absolutely must be able to satisfy organizational self-interest through membership in the alliance, the job of the leadership is to “tend to the whole”.
5. Grounding in base building and frontlines experiences.
- a. Lifting up and centralizing impacted communities and the organizations that serve them, with an eye towards improving the lives of all, will lead to the most equitable outcomes. Impacted communities have the deepest sense of the true cost of current systems and the most motivation to put in place equitable alternatives.
- b. While many anchors are national organizations or intermediaries (without its own body of base building work), it is important that key staff come from local base building experience in order to maintain a lens and orientation towards supporting local organizing work.
- What’s in this toolkit?
- 1. Culture & Structure: Build Them Together
- 2. Alliance Vision and Purpose: Is everyone clear on why you are coming together?
- 3. Alliance Structure Principles
- a. Don’t Get Stuck in the Muck: Common Pitfalls
- b. Places to start
- 4. Alliance Culture
- a. Tools and practices
- b. Trust and Relationships
- 5. Structure Model: Anchors
- 6. Closing: Common Tensions
- 7. Attachments
- Movement Pivots, Sample MOU, anchor description, Fundraising agreement
- Info about Our Healthy Alliance can be found at: https://ourhealthyalliance.roadmapconsulting.org/
Nuts and Bolts of Building an Alliance (PDF)
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