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Learn skills for successfully recruiting and retaining people and groups who share your organization’s mission and goals, so that your mission and goals can be achieved.


Image of youths facing backwards with arms around each others shoulders.


What are allies?

Allies are people or groups of people who have the same interests as you, or the capacity or resources to help you. Allies are essential because you can accomplish much more if there are people who believe in the cause supporting you.

Why do you need allies?

Allies can help you achieve your mission. They may be willing to share their resources and information with you to achieve a common goal, and the community is more likely to pay attention if more people are working towards that goal. In other words, the more help and support you have, the more you can get accomplished.

How do you find allies?

The easiest way to start recruiting allies is to determine if there are already groups in the community working on your issue or working on similar topics, who might be interested in working with you.

For example, if your issue is improving the nutritional value of school lunches, the American Heart Association might be interested in helping your group--or they may already be working to achieve the same outcome.

One method to help identify these groups is a community resource inventory or directory. Many resource inventories are available through private organizations such as the United Way, or from local government organizations.

Some other places you might find information on local resources are:

  • The local library
  • Neighborhood assistance services
  • Chamber of commerce
  • City hall

If you can't find an existing resource directory for your issue, you and your group can always create your own.

Some things you'll want to ask:

  • Who is doing something about the issue in the community already?
  • What are they doing?
  • How is it going?
  • Which strategies did they find effective?
  • Is there some way we could collaborate with them?
  • Who else do we know who might be interested in this issue, even though they may not be acting on it now?

To expand this list further, you can use the "snowball technique," by asking your known allies to list several other groups who are either already working on your issue or who might be interested in helping your group. This technique continues by asking each of the allies to identify more potential partners.

Another method might be for you and your group to write down various sectors of your community, such as religious organizations, businesses and health care, and then identify organizations within each sector who might be potential allies.

Do you and your allies care about the same things?

Once you have identified potential allies, the first question you'll want to ask is which of them cares about the issue enough to want to help your organization. The more a group benefits from your success, the more willing they will be to cooperate with your group. Likewise, a group with a lot to lose will naturally do their best to oppose you.

Of course, groups might have both something to gain and something to lose by helping you. The question is, do the benefits of helping you outweigh the costs? Costs here are not just money but could also include group identity, prestige, or time.

An Allies' Risks vs. Benefits Table will help determine who your strongest potential allies are, by taking into consideration what they may win or lose if they decide to support your cause.

When using the table, ask yourself:

  • Whose problem is it? List as many groups as you think may be affected by the problem.

For each of these groups, ask yourself:

  • What are the benefits? What do they gain by helping you?
  • What are the risks? What might they lose?

You can now approach these groups as potential allies. Having an idea of the risks and benefits they face makes it easier to downplay or eliminate the risks and emphasize the benefits.

Even groups that do not have a direct connection to your issue may have an indirect interest, which can can be advantage.

One way to think of indirect allies might be to think of you and your allies as being in the hub of a bicycle wheel. Think of the rim as the rest of the community and the "spokes" of the wheel as the links and ties that your immediate allies have to others in the community.

The following questions concern links to your allies:

  • Who does business with these people?
  • Who lends and borrows their money?
  • To which organizations and churches do they belong?

Happy Valley High School is facing increasing violence among its students. Your group wants to hire a security guard as part of a program to reduce violence at the school. Using the risks vs. benefits table, you determine who is more likely to become an ally among teachers, students, parents, and the local education board.

The group that has the most direct connection to the issue you're trying to address would be the students themselves. They're directly threatened by the violence at their school and would benefit from having violence reduced or eliminated.

The insurance company that covers the school might have interests. They could lose money if students or teachers get hurt at school, or if school property is damaged. Thus, your group could approach them as a potential ally, using saving money as the incentive.

Using your allies

Cooperation with allies presents a powerful, unified image to the community, and demonstrates that the issue is important enough to compromise and put aside differences to solve the problem. The more allies your group has voicing the same concerns about the issue, the more likely you are to be successful.

Your group is concerned about the growing number of adolescent pregnancies in your community, and you feel a significant factor is adolescents' lack of access to birth control. In your community, there is a group of churches that is also concerned about the adolescent pregnancy issue, but which does not support the idea of access to birth control without parental consent. These churches have received a large donation from their members to do something about the problem, while your group has many volunteers willing to work, but limited financial resources.

You realize the church's money and experience in counseling would be a great help, but convincing the churches to agree to your strategies will be difficult. Instead, you might compromise by creating a series of youth workshops to discuss birth control. You would be working together to make progress on the issue of reducing adolescent pregnancies, and the church group would benefit without giving in to what they might consider being extreme or radical measures.

Which ally should you contact first?

One way to prioritize your list of potential allies is to rank them by how much power they can potentially bring to your group.

A group's power is a measure of how effective that group will be in helping you achieve your goals. As your project progresses, you may find that you need an ally with some kind of specialized expertise, or that has a particular bargaining skill. All you need to do is go back to your Community Resource Inventory and pick groups as required.

Ally Power Grid

The use of an Ally Power Grid may help your group recognize what power a potential ally has and which allies are most useful to your group.

First, let's run through a list of the types of power allies may possess, and some examples.

Type of Power Rationale Example
Members: How many members does the group have? The more members a group has, the less likely it is to be ignored. A group with 500 members shows up at a school board meeting.
Money: Will they donate money to your issue? Donated money and other resources are always welcome in achieving your group's goals. The local teachers' union donated money to your group.
Credibility: Do they bring exceptional credibility? A group with strong positive recognition in your community will help bring credibility to your group. A respected clergyman from a local church speaks on your behalf.
Appeal: Do they have unique appeal? Some groups of people have universal appeal. If your group connects with them, it will help your image as well. A poster child is used to promote an emotional response.
Network: Are they part of an extensive, organized network? A group that has lots of other groups in its network is going to have financial resources, credibility, and some political power. The local chapter of the United Way offers staff support to your group.
Reputation: Do they have a reputation for toughness? Groups with a tough reputation may discourage opponents. The local law enforcement officers' union says they'll support policy changes for improved safety.
Skills: Do they have special abilities? An ally may bring technical, business, or legal skills to your group. Smith, Jones, & Brown's law firm donates free legal support.
Newsworthy: Are they particularly newsworthy? Some groups may have a reputation or connections in the media that make them newsworthy. If they align with you, that might give positive media attention to your cause. An activist group for children's rights that recently won a significant victory offers to give your group technical support.


How do you use a Power Grid?

  • Use a separate grid for each ally whose power you wish to examine.
  • For each type of power, assess how much of it your ally has and give an example.
  • Determine the most effective allies by looking at which have more categories of power, or by identifying which allies have the ability that is most relevant to your specific needs. That is, if what you need is an ally with money, then an ally with the most appeal may not be as particularly useful at this stage.

Example of an Ally Power Grid

Type of Power Power Appraisal: How much of this power do they have? Give an example:
Members They have a lot. The group has 200 active members.
Credibility Very credible. Last year they were responsible for $100,000 in improvements made to the neighborhood park.

This grid is helpful for all allies, but if time is limited, you can do it for allies you are unsure of, or to compare them based on a specific need.

Use a blank Ally Power Grid to find the best allies for your organization, and feel free to add your criteria for power to the grid.

Now that you've found some potential allies, you can concentrate on the best ways to contact them and convince them to join your effort.

Eric Wadud

Print Resources

Altman, D., Balcazar, F., Fawcett, S., Seekins, T., & Young, J. (1994). Public health advocacy: Creating community change to improve health. Palo Alto,CA: Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention.

Bobo, K., Kendall, J., & Max, S. (1991). Organizing for social change: a manual for activists in the 1990s. Minneapolis, MN: Midwest Academy.

Identifying Allies and Opponents. This advocacy planning model provides information on how to establish a group or individual as an ally, opponent, or neutral/unknown group.

Sen, R. (2003). Stir it up: Lessons in community organizing and advocacy. Jossey-Bass; 1st Edition. In this book, Sen goes step-by-step through the process of building and mobilizing a community and implementing key strategies to affect social change. Using case studies to illustrate advocacy practices, Sen provides tools to help groups tailor his model for their own organizational needs.

Kretzmann, J., & McKnight, J. (1993). Building communities from the inside out: A path toward finding and mobilizing a community’s assets. ACTA publications. This book provides case studies of successful community-building initiatives across the U.S. In addition to this, it outlines how a community can move toward asset-based development.