The first thing that most collaborations do is to select members.  Sometimes they begin by assembling a small core group to handle initial planning and outreach; sometimes the initiating group is intentionally inclusive and wide-ranging.  It is essential to approach membership selection as a strategic process.  In the Formation phase, membership recruitment needs to bring in those organizations or individuals who possess the resources and skills that the coalition needs.  Attention is paid to what the coalition needs, as well as what incentives will encourage people to join and participate.   In later phases of development, the issue becomes retaining, cultivating and replenishing membership.  (Please refer to Section II for more details.)  The following questions are posed in order to assist collaboration leaders in making careful choices about their partners.





What combination of resources, power and ideology are  needed for collaboration success?


What sectors (e.g. business, health care, etc.) / types of organizations and issue-interests should be included?


What types of organizations should be excluded, if any, and why?


What level of leadership should be sent to represent each member organization in the collaboration?


What kind of contributions and commitment will be expected of  members/member  organizations?


What are the bottom line issues that participants must agree upon?


How diverse should the collaboration be? Should members be accepted if their beliefs or activities are incompatible with the collaboration’s mission?









Working with different people or organizations will be easier if you get to know something about them, first.  The more you learn, the more you can know what to expect and plan for, and the easier collaborating will be. Several factors could affect your working relationship. 



     Who is formally in charge? 

     Who can actually make decisions for the organization?

     What kind of approval is required for the organization to  join or participate in a coalition?  

     How does the organization involve its clients/constituency? 

     Are staff or constituents in leadership roles with input or decision-making power?



     How does the organization make decisions?

     By what process and timetable are decisions made?

     How does the organization communicate with its members/ clients/constituency?

     How can the organization and the coalition best  communicate? e.g. written materials, faxes,  computer/modem, direct personal contact



     How formal is the organization's style and manner?

     What are the organization's beliefs, values, priorities?

     What is the organization's attitude toward and experience with collaboration?

     Is the collaboration compatible with the organization's mission and purpose?




     What can the organization bring to a collaboration?

     What outcomes does the organization expect to obtain from the collaboration?

     How long is the organization willing to work on  the coalition/collaboration?

     What assumptions related to the process and outcome of collaborating does the organization bring to the effort?

     What might be a sore point, area of vulnerability, or tension  in working together and how can this be addressed?




Which attributes does the collaboration need from its  member organizations in order to enhance it?

     Color, culture, class or ethnic group


     Shared ideology

     History of effectiveness

     Compatible organizational structures and styles

     People who have worked effectively with each other


What kinds of resources will be required for effective collaboration functioning?  Identifying these needs will assist the collaboration in being more strategic about membership recruitment.

     Access to external allies

     Access to media  

     Access to relevant constituencies

     Connection to the social change target


     Expertise and skills










Finding the right balance of membership unity and diversity is a challenge.  The dynamics of difference require careful management, but represent the essence of effective collaboration.  For further reference, see Chapter 3: Some Essential Components of Coalition Development: The Four “C’s,” which provides details regarding the contributions, commitment, and competence collaborations may seek from their membership.  Also see Chapter 13: Managing Dynamic Tensions” which outlines the many forms in which differences between members manifest, and suggests ways to manage these tensions.





The initiating organizations should discuss who to target for membership recruitment, taking all of the above steps into account.   Some groups find it useful to develop criteria for membership, or develop different tiers of membership, each with distinct benefits and responsibilities. (For more detail, see Chapter 7: Structure and Process.)  


It is essential to consider: 1. What the organization can bring to the collaboration; 2. What would appeal to them about participating in the collaboration, and 3. What might be a problem for them, for other members, or the collaboration if they join?   Use the Recruitment Strategy Chart - see exercises below -  to answer these questions.  


If  too many problems or conflicts would be entailed in some group's participation, consider other ways to involve them without extending full membership benefits; if their participation as members is essential, it will be worth addressing the problems directly.


Prospective collaboration partners need to know:

     the basic vision and goals of the collaboration

     the resources which are or will be available and how they will be allocated

     their expected role and responsibilities

·        the established ground rules and operating procedures /  by-laws of the collaboration (if any)

A membership package could be developed that  contains these materials in writing;  verbal presentations from membership recruiters can reinforce the points.  See below: Membership Agreements, and also see sample agreement in the Appendix.





A written agreement for each member organization allows them to make an informed decision about their commitment, and provide an  understanding of "coalition etiquette." It also tries to prevent misunderstandings and conflicts between the coalition and its member organizations.


Prospective members should help develop (and those joining later,  review) the coalition's statement of purpose and by-laws /operating procedures. If certain items will cause them difficulty, these should be discussed with the full group and amended, if necessary. Alternatively, some ground rules may be essential to preserve, in which case the coalition can: (1) create waivers, methods of dissension or non-participation for members; or (2) determine that organizations unable to abide by the ground rules cannot join or maintain their membership.  What is essential is that the evolving collaboration  mechanism attempt to be responsive to participants without violating its basic philosophy..


Ideally, membership agreements for a coalition would provide clarity about expectations and commitments for the collaboration as a whole and for its members. 



    criteria for attendance, representation, liaison to member  organizations

     whether each party is considered a voting or non-voting  member

    responsibilities, expected commitment and contributions

     the amount and timing of dues or other financial  contribution, if applicable

     process to ensure that members are accountable to the coalition

     how to change the membership agreement

     consequences, if any, of violating the agreement

     mechanisms for grievance/ conflict resolution



     agreement to support the purpose of the collaboration

     agreement to abide by the ground rules of the coalition

     organizational endorsement of its representative and alternate; commitment to allow them to make decisions for their organization

     structure for representative to be accountable to their own organization

     agreement to use (or delete) organization name on stationery, position papers, proposals, or other coalition materials

  agreement to abide by "coalition etiquette" e.g. mutual  respect, shared decision-making and control




(See sample Membership Agreement in the Appendix.)