The social justice movement is at a critical juncture. Recognizing both the opportunity and the potential for opposition, grassroots organizations are reaching beyond their constituencies to align themselves with others that share common goals. They recognize that working in isolated silos limits their impact on issues that affect social justice. Donors also understand that by supporting cross-movement alliances they can more effectively realize their philanthropic goals. Alliance building is a smart strategy for donors and grassroots groups to maximize their impact and drive change in this new era of social justice.
Defining Alliance Building
Words like collaboration and coalition are a standard part of the social justice lexicon. But alliance building is something different. Grassroots organizations typically team up with like-minded groups and form coalitions as a tactical approach in a short-term crisis response. But alliance building is a deeper, long-term process that brings together different and sometimes unlikely partners in a focused way to find a shared vision and values. Over time, the result is deeply-rooted structural reform that builds broad-based political power and drives social justice reform.
How Alliance Building Works
Alliance building not only bridges divisions and leverages existing resources, but joins together seemingly incongruous interests. African Americans partner with immigrant rights groups to drive immigration reform. Hispanics and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) groups form an alliance to fight discrimination. Social justice groups and conservationists team up to oppose low-income housing in an ecologically sensitive area. In alliance building, disparate groups identify the common values and concerns around which they can band together to achieve goals that would otherwise be unattainable. Alliances avert “wedge” politics and create a united front.
Why Should Donors Consider Alliance Building?
Alliance building is a dynamic strategy for donors who fund movements around progressive issues. Oftentimes donors feel that they are also operating in isolated silos. They see the work that needs to be done but are constrained by their institutions’ programs and guidelines. By building alliances, both with outside funders and funders within their organizations who work on related issues, they can transcend institutional limitations and strengthen their work. This drives policy initiatives and blunts the political Right’s divisive politics against progressive values and human rights.
The Challenges of Alliance Building
There is no quick fix. Building effective alliances is a long-term proposition that pays off over time. It demands a delicate balance of collaboration and independence. It’s not uncommon for partners to clash. But the most important ingredient for a successful alliance is the right match of partners.
In an effective alliance:
- A melding of values, priorities and interests must take place over time.
- A sense of commitment and trust must exist for both sides.
- There must be a space for both groups to come together to discover their commonalities.
- Open communication must exist.