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Example: Interview with Brian Dawson, Community Consultant for the Ellis County, KS Community Partnership

CTB: Talk a little about the structural development of a group you have worked with.

Brian Dawson: When I worked in Mitchell County, KS, we were trying to construct a coalition to address substance abuse issues. There had been a lot of abuse and accidents. People were finally speaking out, saying "enough was enough." There had been a lot of denial from the community. They were not admitting they had a problem until it got to a certain level. A few attempts at addressing the problem were made.

I worked with the community members that were passionate about getting something done. We developed a steering committee. This group became the motivational force behind the developing coalition. These people had a real degree of personal interest and they started working through grass roots efforts to incorporate and recruit people to get involved. Attempts at including key leaders in the community to become part of the coalition were made.

From there, they developed an advisory board that would review information and consider how the group should act and what approach they should take. They wound up applying for a 501(c)(3) status, so they could apply for grant opportunities, funding, and operate under a not-for-profit status. They continually went back to their goals and missions and reevaluated to make sure they were doing what they intended to do, which was impact the problems of substance abuse.

Over a period of time they had to change or at least keep trying to encourage new people to get on board. You have to keep people interested and dedicated. Just because an accident has occurred doesn't mean you can relax. Prevention needs to be long term and continually working to improve the community.

CTB: Did you find it difficult to get other leaders involved in the organization? 

Brian Dawson: That's a complex question. Yes and no. If they've got an interest in (the issue ) or if they have a political tie, the key leaders may become involved. If the community really wants someone to get involved they do have an influence in numbers. It's important to have people involved that can make change happen such as your mayor, county attorney, a judge, or somebody that's going to give you some leverage for policy changes. You need to have some people that are going to be able to make changes in that community or in your area. Otherwise, you're going to have a tough, uphill battle. So try and approach key leaders, educate them on your efforts, and get them involved at some level so that they can help you out.

CTB: You were talking about using leverage to convince them to join. What kind leverage does a new coalition have?

Statistical information is valuable to persuade attitudes and involvement. The voice of the masses can persuade a political or elected official to join the group, especially if it will help them politically to be involved. The coalition needs to do their homework to best represent the case for support. You've got to have a selling point. And you've got to have the information and the personal touch there that's going to get people involved. Otherwise, you might be just spinning your wheels.

Also, it's important to have a clear vision and mission statement on what your coalition is all about. Coalition members need to be in agreement of the vision and goals. It's okay to have different opinions, but the group on the whole has to want the same outcome.

CTB: Do you think it's more important to have key leaders as members of your initial steering committee, or are they people you want for your board later on?

Brian Dawson: It's not so important, I don't think, to have key leaders on the committee that gets everything started. But once you are established, it's important to have key leaders on the board to give it some weight. If the issues are important for the community, key leaders are typically going to be on the board or have some kind of connection. They wouldn't be in those positions if they weren't there working for the benefit of the community.

A key leader is someone who can influence individuals in your community's schools, government, law enforcement, social services, etc. A key leader's involvement is essential in providing credibility, accessing resources, removing barriers and supporting community prevention efforts.

CTB: Do you have any advice for others working on organizational structure?

Brian Dawson: Really think about what you want to accomplish, develop a vision, and try to develop from there. It's helpful to have an advisory board to steer the coalition, legal counsel is helpful (maybe an attorney can get on the coalition board), by-laws, mission statements, and a consensus from the group to reach certain goals. Define success for your coalition so you will be able to monitor your efforts. You can develop subcommittees to work on the grassroots efforts of recruiting people and funding.