Building broad-based community coalitions is a key skill, especially as you rise to the upper levels of an organization. But in my experience, leaders fail to recognize the importance of this ability early enough and wait too long to proactively develop. The result is being passed over for executive-level positions or needing to scramble to expand their spheres of influence.
Successful leaders work to achieve the “triple bottom line” to create organizations that protect and sustain people, the planet, and profits. Learning to effectively build coalitions takes time. Think of it as a parallel career development track. Invest the time and energy to advance internally within your company, and externally to build your network. Two great places to start are serving on boards of directors and working on political/regulatory efforts.
- Serve on Board of Directors
Serving on a board of directors is a great way to develop an “outside-in” community-based mindset. Start by identifying a cause that is important to you. I was always interested in the intersection of education, housing, economic development, and healthcare to build strong communities. I volunteered for community development and educational organizations. Remember this work is done in your spare time, so it is critical to match with natural areas of interest.
Level 1 Service – Become a Board Member
Done thoughtfully, your experience on boards can mirror your career advancement. There are two general buckets of board members. The “WOW” board members and the “working” board members. Wow board members have access to broad, influential networks, can raise significant amounts of money, and bring credibility and/or publicity to the organization. But most people start out as working board members. Devoting time to assist the organization with critical operating functions like program development, fundraising, marketing, etc. At this level you are trading skills and knowledge you employ on your job (e.g., strategy, accounting, consulting), for expanding your network and learning new skills.
Level 2 Service – Become a Board Officer
After you gain board member experience and develop a record of adding value to the organization, you will be asked to become an officer. Typical elected or appointed nonprofit officer positions include president, treasurer, and secretary.
Serving as an officer is like being promoted to upper-level management at a for-profit company. Success in these roles requires the ability to create and communicate a compelling vision of where you are taking the organization, garnering resources to achieve the vision, and working with people both within and outside the organization to implement the vision. In addition, it provides opportunities to develop relationships outside of your company, industry and region.
Level 3 Service – Achieve “WOW” Board Member Status
As you become successful professionally and financially, you can influence at the highest levels. You have the contacts and ability to build powerful coalitions. At this point you might have the resources and influence to start your own nonprofit or foundation, and/or Fortune 1000 companies are willing to pay you to be on their board. This is the highest level of board service.
- Work on Political / Regulatory Efforts
Getting exposure to political and regulatory work is an excellent way to hone the skills of senior managers. They develop the “outside-in” mindset, and a true understanding of how policy and government works (hint: it is not like appears on television). Use the following examples to get started and determine what path is right for you.
Volunteer for a Political Campaign
If you can identify a local, state or national politician that aligns with your values and perspectives, working on their campaign in an excellent way to develop coalition-building skills. You work with a group of people who formulate and implement the strategy of the campaign. Roles vary greatly but match your interest and skills with the opportunity. Examples include:
- Social Media Director – online outreach.
- Field Director – grassroots organizing.
- Speech Writer – message management.
- Media Consultant – television/radio presence.
- Pollster – research, public opinion.
- Funding Coordinator – raising money.
- Campaign Manager – implement strategy.
- Policy Advisor – develop policy agenda.
- Treasurer – fiscal management.
Work on Regulatory Efforts
This is a great idea for using your knowledge to advance your company and industry. In the past I’ve served on a governor’s commissions and task forces to promote economic development and job growth. Serve as a policy advisor to a town, state or national official. Be creative and unearth opportunities by asking yourself, “Who would benefit from my experience and expertise?”
It is never too early to learn how to build broad-based community coalitions. It is a vital skill needed to rise to the highest ranks of an organization. Kick-start your journey by serving on boards of directors and working on political and regulatory efforts.