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Sustaining a community coalition

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Many dialogue-to-change programs have at some point struggled with how to sustain their efforts over time. Concerns over staffing and funding have often led programs to consider becoming a 501(c)(3), which is a nonprofit organization with tax-exempt status, or linking their work directly to an existing 501(c)(3). You can refer to the Internal Revenue Service website for more information about 501(c)(3) organizations at http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Charitable-Organizations/Exem....

Circumstances vary so much from one community to another, there are no easy answers. You and your coalition must decide whether and when it’s time to form an alliance with an established organization—or to set up your own nonprofit.

As you proceed, remember that you have worked very hard to earn the trust of the people in your community. If you decide to affiliate with another organization, you need to know how people from different parts of the community feel about that organization. Always be mindful of the issue or issues you have chosen to focus on.

Here are some advantages and disadvantages to attaching to a public agency or  becoming your own nonprofit:

Attaching to a public agency                                                                                  

Advantages:

  • Stability
  • Instantaneous recognition
  • The possibility of a funding stream or other resources you might not have already or know about
  • Office space, computer access, support staff and other “overhead” benefits
  • Better access to decision-makers, who might be able to implement change

   Disadvantages:

  • Bureaucratic complexity
  • Turf issues with related departments
  • The perception of being a “program” of the agency, with limited ability to impact the community as a whole
  • Tensions between the public agency and some sectors of the public

Starting your own non-profit

Advantages:

  • A clear mission and focus with no competing priorities
  • The ability to be arm’s length from systems or institutions you are trying to impact
  • The opportunity to build a core team who share the same vision for success
  • The opportunity to be a potential grantee, serving also as a potential funder for action teams and/or other community change initiatives

Disadvantages:

  • The investment of time and money needed to set up a 501c3
  • Survival: someone needs to raise funds on an on-going basis
  • Lack of perceived “clout” or “legitimacy” in a small, start up non-profit

As you consider the pros and cons of each option, meet with your coalition members to discuss these key questions:

  • What are our long-term goals?
  • How would each option help us sustain our coalition?
  • How would our finances and expenses be affected?
  • How would this affect the way we work? What impact would it have on staffing?
  • What value would be added?
  • Why now? Is the timing right? Why, or why not?

 

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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, Everyday Democracy's Dialogue-to-Change process can help community members take action and make their voice heard.