By Jennifer Wagner
“I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”
This famously funny Will Rogers quote applies far beyond partisan politics. Every issue — political or not — has a coalition, and every coalition has its members — for better or worse.
We’ve done a lot of coalition work over the years, and we thought it might be fun — and maybe a little therapeutic — to write down the different types of folks who are drawn to join a group that’s advocating for something.
Bear in mind that not every coalition includes all of these caricatures, but all of these caricatures have existed in a coalition at some point. Did we miss someone? Give us a shout on the @edchoice social platforms or email us at email@example.com.
The Leader: Kind of self-explanatory, except this person isn’t always the person who’s “in charge” of the coalition. Sometimes you’ll find a different personality type — The Meddler — operating as a self-proclaimed Leader, but the actual Leader is the person playing peacemaker among coalition members, workshopping new approaches and making the trains run on time behind the scenes.
The Worker Bees: Asking someone to phone bank for hours or tie hundreds of ribbons on petitions or make rally signs until 3 a.m.? These bee your people. They are the loyal foot soldiers who showed up when the coalition was just a loose gathering in someone’s living room, and they will always be there for you when you need them. That said, they also need to be told they’re doing a great job and kept in the communication loop. It’s no fun to bust your bee-hind working toward a common goal if you don’t know what’s happening.
The Connector: If you want to grow your coalition, you have to have someone who can bring in new folks. This can be the Leader, but it can also be a Connector, someone who cares about the issue and knows everyone under the sun but might not want to be involved on a day-to-day basis. Once they’re equipped with your action plan and message, Connectors can open doors to you that you might not ever have known existed.
The Meddler: These folks thrive on being in the middle of everything. Scheduling a conference call? Make sure you send them the invite. Email chain? Don’t forget to loop them in. And if you look at their calendars, you’ll see meeting after meeting after meeting. However, if you look at a list of action items or deliverables, these folks are often noticeably absent from the execution phase of any strategy. They want to be seen and heard, but they don’t always follow through. They also tend to be the chief offenders of stoking palace intrigue, a threat to any healthy coalition.
The Unicorn: Otherwise known as unlikely allies, these rare beasts are invaluable because they bring something to the table that the coalition desperately needs. This can be purely political — think gun-loving Democrats or Republicans who support climate science — or it can be more constituency-based. Either way, if you want your coalition to be taken seriously, you probably need a couple Unicorns on board.
The Show Horse: Please do not confuse the Show Horse with the aforementioned Unicorn. While both are members of the equine coalition family, the Unicorn is necessary to show diversity of thought or politics within a movement while the Show Horse is just there to take credit for anything good that happens.
The True Believer: All coalitions start with True Believers. They’re the incredible, amazing people who see an issue before it’s an issue, and it often becomes a crusade for them. (They will likely be the hardest-working of the Worker Bees.) This is wonderful when things are going in the right direction; it can be challenging when it’s time to compromise. Half-measures are always difficult to sell — far more so to those who’ve been there the whole time and want a pure outcome.
The Awkward Relative: Most of us have one in our families. They say stuff at the wrong time. They show up late for every gathering. But here’s the thing: They sometimes have brilliant, outside-the-box ideas that no one else has thought of because herd mentality is a very real thing. In coalition work, you take the good with the less-than-good, and these odd uncles might just come up with a solution everyone else overlooked.
Jennifer Wagner is a mom, a recovering political hack and the Vice President of Communications for EdChoice, a national nonprofit that supports and promotes universal school choice.