by Caroline Incledon, Community Investment Campaign Organizer

Community organizing is impossible to do without the help of allies. Unfortunately, while it is sometimes easy find people who identify with your message or purpose, it can be harder to formulate stronger, more committed relationships with allies. However, the demonstrated support of allies is integral to the success of a campaign, whether those allies are other students, school administrators, local political officials, or even an old friend who lets you bounce ideas off of them at every opportunity. Either way, allies can embolden and broaden your campaign, open administrative doors, increase legitimacy, and (probably most importantly) increase capacity. My current community organizing work has impressed upon me the importance of ally support, and I have a few tips for those looking to increase their allies. Essentially, it boils down to  “A.L.L.I.E.S.”: Assess, link, lobby, inspire, engage, and sustain.

Assess your current campaign plan to determine your work capacity and what type of allies are most necessary for your work moving forward. For example, are you looking to move your school’s money into a local bank? Some potential allies could be student’s in your school’s Economic Club, professors of Urban and Environmental Planning, or administrators in the Media Relations office. It will be useful to think broadly about what type of support you need, and to look for support from every level. At the same time, be realistic. Will it really be useful to devote time and resources to engaging a student group only tangentially related to your cause? Or, will it really be possible to engage potential support from notable alumni or a local politician? Sometimes, these contacts may be worth pursuing, but it depends on the power dynamics of your school, what you are looking to accomplish, and what you know or perceive about these allies. Essentially, try to organize a diverse list of potential allies, prioritizing those you feel would be a) most helpful, and b) most willing to become involved.

Link yourself to them. Somehow, you need to get in touch with this person, whether by email, phone, or in person. However, I recommend finding common ground, such as a mutual friend or shared interest (you might need an ally to meet your ally!). You might attend a professor’s lecture, or a student’s club meeting, and approach them afterwards about your shared aspirations. If you approach an ally, you want to be able to link yourself effectively, and be able to explain coherently and fully why you feel their support would be a valuable and unique addition to your campaign.

Lobby your potential ally. Once you have their interest, you need to explain your campaign, its benefits, and what you feel their potential support could be. Try to be specific. If you want an ally to be involved in a certain aspect of your project or campaign, let them know, and say why. Also, allow for their input – if they are truly interested, maybe they have their own ideas about how to be most effective. Which leads me to my next point, which is:

Inspire! Asking for help or support from someone can feel like you are asking a favor. But ultimately, if you’ve chosen your allies correctly, your goals should be mutual, and success for one is success for both. Let your ally know that you are passionate about their cause as well as your own, and that you see coordination as furthering both of your messages. You don’t want their begrudging support; you want committed and excited allies!

Engage them in substantive discussion about responsibilities and expectations. This is the hard part. So far, you’ve explained your purpose and vision, and hopefully gotten your ally excited about your message. At the same time, you want to channel that excitement into real action, and create the foundation of a continuous, mutually beneficial relationship. Ask them how they see their supportive role. Realistically, how much time can they dedicate? Can a student dedicate 2 hours a week to assisting with research or coming to meetings, can a professor only give you 5 minutes of his time every other week, and can you only get a community investment speaker to come for 1 hour to your campus? Finally, what are the goals that you want to accomplish, or feel will be accomplished more effectively, by working together? State all of this beforehand. While an ally relationship is (and should be) flexible, it is also important to understand what your ally is bringing to the table and how you anticipate a successful relationship ensuing.

Sustain. Hopefully, your ally will provide welcome support or even relief in a crucial moment, but in many cases, we hope for allies that are continuously active. Make sure you consider and ensure the sustainability of allies wherever necessary. If you are looking to expand or increase student interest in your campaign, make sure you are integrating students’ comments and concerns, so that students will want to maintain their support. If you are looking for the assistance of an administrative ally, try to check in with them relatively frequently. Most importantly, let all your allies and supporters know when their efforts have truly helped you or the campaign, whether in big or small ways. Demonstrating appreciation for their work is important to maintaining sustainable allies, but it is also important because it makes YOU a good ally.

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