Build a diverse coalition of individuals, groups and businesses dedicated to tackling the wildlife crisis and securing the future of all wildlife for all people in your state.
A diverse and broad coalition will cultivate the political willpower to inspire leadership, elevate the wildlife crisis, transform the culture and secure funding for state wildlife agencies. You will need to galvanize the coalition to take on these important actions. But how to go about it? Often, our instinct is to campaign for wildlife funding right off the bat. However, a large campaign succeeds when you start with a strong, diverse and effective coalition with a clear purpose to reverse the wildlife crisis. A coalition gives you different voices, capabilities, raw numbers, and eventually power. Remember, no campaign is an island. You need a coalition.
There are some notable wildlife coalition examples including Teaming with Wildlife and more recently groups working together on Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. Teaming with Wildlife spent several years growing a coalition that then allowed it to become a force in the U.S. Congress resulting in securing first-time funding to states to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered through the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program. Additionally, nearly all successful state-based funding programs resulted from diverse interests (water, parks and wildlife, sometimes even the arts community) coming together to overcome their opponents. Taking the time to organize a powerful coalition will lead to greater likelihood of success. A lasting coalition gives you staying power after your first successes to ensure accountability and continued progress.
This section leads you through four steps. First, create and lead a diverse, big tent coalition. Second, use this coalition to draft a vision statement. Third, organize a state shareholders/summit meeting. Fourth, galvanize this coalition to action! At the end, find more useful background, case studies, and a list of materials.
1. Create and lead a diverse, big tent coalition
While coalition building is hard work, simple steps will make the task easier and increase your likelihood of success.
The Guide to Building a State Coalition will outline the important steps to building any kind of coalition. First, establish a small core group or steering committee. Next, ensure your coalition is well balanced with a diversity of interest and capacity. Enlist “influential” and “influencers.” Act strategically, and consider tapping into existing coalitions.
NGOs are especially suited to coalition building and creating this conservation army. You—the NGOs–are less cautious, more creative, and less bureaucratic, can act faster, can get out compelling messages and mobilize citizens. That is your JOB. Several former state wildlife agency directors were interviewed and asked what they wished the NGOs in their state would do, or would have done: Here is what they had to say: “do and say the things we cannot say, howl over the bad things and applaud the good things”.
A united conservation community builds support with state legislatures, governors, or federal members of Congress, and becomes a force to be reckoned with, rather than ignored.
Each coalition needs a strong vision and goal(s), which will dramatically influence who should be in your coalition. Start by getting together with a small core group and determining your ultimate goal and objectives. A goal is the broad, long term outcome you want in the form of a “what” statement, not a “how.” An example of a goal may be “to do X by this percentage in our state by the year 20__.”
Next, determine the specific objectives, or milestones, to get to the goal. Examples of objectives might include “landowners educated about better land use practices to protect wildlife; political support for wildlife programs in the state legislature; state agency and regulatory practices in place to protect wildlife; and legislation for wildlife protection passed (or bad legislation blocked).”
A popular tool when planning goals and objectives is to use the “SMART” methodology. Make sure your plans are Specific (What do you want? When do you need it? Where does it need to happen? Who is the decision maker?) Measurable (What are your metrics for progress? How will you course-correct and adjust along the way? Consider criteria that is a mix of both quantity and quality, and both interim and long term) Achievable (What is realistic and attainable considering restraints of staff, time, resources, and potential opposition) Realistic (What is the political context? What are your resources? How intense is opposition? What happens after you win? Can you then implement your conservation success and defend it?). And Timely (How long will this take to achieve? Can this be achieved near term? Set an aggressive yet realistic timeframe to give effort urgency and focus).
Your ultimate goal and objectives will determine your most likely strategy. Strategy is how to achieve your objectives and ultimately the goal. Examples of strategies may be an information campaign directed at a specific constituency; a behavior change campaign directed at landowners and farmers to change their land use practices; a corporate campaign working with specific industries to change business practices; a regulatory campaign to change how state agencies implement certain rules; or a legislative lobbying campaign or ballot measure to pass (or block) legislation. Your strategy will in turn determine what tactics to use to carry out the strategy. Examples of tactics are the building of strategic coalitions, events, reports and publications, earned and social media, and building grassroots and grasstops networks for support.
This toolkit offers many suggestions for taking action. Determining your path forward with a core group will help you decide who to invite to be part of the larger coalition. Take a closer look at several key constituencies featured here, with talking points to encourage participation.
Hunters and Anglers
These outdoor enthusiasts often have a strong relationship with their state fish and wildlife agency. Many of them understand the agency’s role, on-the-ground results, funding, and political power. Hunters and anglers often include conservative voices and can ensure the coalition can form bipartisan support. They are a very important asset, can play a significant leadership role, and are an essential ingredient in any state’s coalition. The benefit to them is clear in sharing the cost of wildlife conservation and securing urgently needed funding for habitat conservation and restoration. Find talking points here.
Gardening and Backyard Habitats
About 80% of our nation resides in an urban/suburban area according to the U.S. Census. Please reach out to urban community and gardening groups that increasingly recognize the importance of access to nature for children and people of all ages. National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife website is an excellent resource for outreach and for directly connecting with people in your state already involved with wildlife habitat certification at their home, or in schools, houses of worship, and other pollinator and monarch butterfly gardens.
There are 90 million gardeners in the United States and almost 9 million that “garden for wildlife,” a growing and potentially active support base. Find talking points here.
All Outdoor Recreationists
Engage the fast-growing sector of outdoor recreationists participating in activities like bird watching (find talking points here), nature photography (find talking points here), and gardening for wildlife. In 2016, 86 million people (34 percent of all Americans) watched wildlife (see USFWS report).
The 2017 Outdoor Participation Report from the Outdoor Industry Association documents 144 million Americans, or almost half of the US population, taking part in an outdoor activity at least once in 2016. A significant 42 million Americans went hiking, with an average of 14 outings per hiker. Camping (car, backyard, backpack, RV) attracted 40 million participants, with an average of 13 outings per camper. Find talking points here.
From nature tourism-related bed and breakfasts to outfitters and guides and to retailers and manufacturers of outdoor recreation equipment, many businesses share a common interest in supporting increased state wildlife funding and stronger state wildlife agencies with expanded capacity and authority.
Without thriving wildlife and habitats, the economic loss alone would be monumental. The outdoor recreation industry contributes $887 billion to our national economy annually, creates 7.6 million direct jobs, and generates $124 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. You can find your state’s data there too. As threats multiply to our wildlife, public lands and waterways, more alliances are forming, and existing ones are expanding. Take a look at the Maine Outdoor Coalition, the Outdoor Alliance, and the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition. Find talking points here.
Businesses Linked to Lands, Waters and Wildlife
Think broad. While the outdoor industry is a natural connection, consider all businesses that make a living off the land and have a vested interest in preventing wildlife from becoming endangered. Those include farmers, foresters, ranchers, small private landowners, and developers and energy companies. One strong appeal of proactive wildlife management is preventing wildlife from becoming listed under the Endangered Species Act, a critical safety net for species at risk of extinction that triggers a strong regulatory process to succeed. Being proactive and addressing wildlife declines gives businesses many assurances, more flexibility and reduces risk for them. Business talking points here.
Almost 200 million people a year visit these nature filled educational experiences. Zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens have large networks, are leaders in their communities, and reach families who may love plants and wildlife but do not yet venture off the pavement. Their conservation work includes captive rearing and propagation of endangered species, rescue and rehabilitation of injured wildlife, habitat conservation and restoration and conducting important research. Their mission to save plants and wildlife makes them a natural and powerful ally.
As you customize your coalition for your state, continue to think outside the box for groups to involve, including the business and tourism community that can carry a “good for business” message. Consider groups with good political connections.
For examples of coalition diverse memberships:
- Minnesota Environmental Partnership
- Colorado Outdoor Stewardship Coalition
- Recovering America’s Wildlife Act
Other tips and considerations:
Focus on What Unites Not What Divides
We suggest the coalition you build follow the “big tent” model—bringing everyone in who cares about the future of wildlife under one tent. From urban to rural, hunters to birders, gardeners to farmers, and hikers to boaters, you’ll find a common passion for wildlife. As you build your coalition, credit generously and showcase everyone.
When starting out, look for groups that contribute skills to further the coalition, like grassroots organizing and communications. A compelling vision for saving wildlife and habitats for all will bring people together.
Stay with the common ground and purpose, acknowledging where you may not agree on some issues. With a common goal of strengthening our state fish and wildlife agencies to secure a future for all wildlife and people, you all wear that same hat to the table.
Follow the 90 percent rule—focus on the 90 percent you agree on and put aside the 10 percent of differences.
Habitat is a common denominator—a future where all wildlife has room to thrive. Your group may already apply this common ground value with your membership as a way to move forward with unity.
Focus on the Big Picture to Cultivate Staying power
Many coalitions form for one-time purposes, like passing funding legislation or a ballot measure. This coalition should be built to achieve the full slate of goals, acting more like shareholder groups that assure their trustees are investing wisely, since everyone has a stake in wildlife and the outdoors. There are many more issues for this coalition to take on beyond funding.
Worth It? Yes!
Many voices speaking up together are powerful, especially when a coalition represents a broad spectrum of public interests. Without the 6,300-strong Teaming with Wildlife coalition nationally, we would not have the State Wildlife Grants program, the first federal funding program to focus on preventing wildlife from becoming endangered. That same coalition is instrumental in the current national efforts to pass the critically needed Recovering America’s Wildlife Act that will directly benefit your state-level efforts. Your state has its own history of successful coalitions.
Finding Coalition Members—Teaming with Wildlife
Many states developed coalitions in the late 1990’s as part of Teaming with Wildlife. Look here for the full list of 6000+ groups that made up Teaming with Wildlife, and note your state’s own list. Some states like Alaska, Iowa, and Ohio grew to more than 300 groups each. State wildlife agencies often played key coalition-building roles, and continue to do so as part of their State Wildlife Action Plans. Check here for ideas for groups to join your coalition. For Recovering America’s Wildlife Act’s growing coalition look here.
Role of Influentials
Who do you know who has influence to get you in the door to meet with a key decision maker? As we know, connections are everything. An influential might be a business leader, elected official, campaign donor, or prominent community member. This is distinct from an “influencer” that might be swaying opinion via social media. An influential is usually someone that has a clear traditional leadership role with access to others in power. You also would want to engage social media influencers (see elevate wildlife crisis).
Make Strategic choices
Always think strategically. You might gain early support from a statewide group representing hunting or angling to build buy-in and participation from all sportsmen groups. Early endorsements and participation from influential leaders can do wonders for launching your coalition. Your chair or co-chair might be a former governor, legislator, or celebrity.
Revive or Expand an Existing Core Group or Coalition
Your state may be ahead of the game and already rolling with a coalition. You may have one that needs reviving, could be bigger and more effective, or would be willing to focus on the wildlife crisis and the importance of carrying out the actions of this toolkit to strengthen state fish and wildlife agencies. You may have a coalition that has a related yet relevant focus, like outdoor recreation. Or you may have a coalition of arts and cultural interests that you could team up with to secure funding, as in the Minnesota example. Rather than develop a whole separate coalition, you might join and raise the voice and issues there
Many state agencies created advisory groups to help develop State Wildlife Action Plans. Since public input is a required element of action plans, every state has a list of groups that commented, as well as groups that participated in summits or public meetings. Some advisory groups may still be in place. Check for a list of groups in your state. Look at the focus of existing core groups for coalitions to see where you might direct their attention to solving the wildlife crisis. Groups are eager to work on positive, offensive strategies.
Coalition building can sound daunting and cost prohibitive. However, there are many creative ways to make excellent progress on a shoestring budget. One of your partners might have strength with fundraising and take the lead as your coalition grows. Remember, solving the wildlife crisis is of great importance to many groups. Once they know the solution lies with strengthened state wildlife agencies, they will want to be part of the conservation army.
2. Draft a vision for the next 100 years
A vision for a strong and adequately funded wildlife agency requires finding common ground. Clearly identify what the coalition can support, starting with your core group. We live in an era of innovation with start-up’s disrupting many long-held traditions and business models. In this case, we are not interested in creating disruption per se. Rather, drafting a vision for the next 100 years takes agreement that now is the time to look creatively at the challenges and opportunities. You will want to create time to “get on the same page” and thus have the same roadmap ahead. However, do not get stalled by the lowest common denominator. Consensus is good, but not always achievable.
Think big! The magnitude of the solution must match the magnitude of the problem. See the example from Washington for a vision of a future state wildlife agency. The Montana Wildlife Future Group drafted a white paper including a summary of their values and plan. A vision statement could be simple or include many specific aspects, depending on the expected campaign goals ahead.
3. Organize and host a state shareholders meeting and/or summit.
As your coalition grows, bringing groups together can be a powerful way to learn, exchange ideas, and champion a vision and actions. A shareholders meeting and a summit are two similar but distinct suggestions. Pick the one that moves you forward. The idea of a shareholders meeting is to invite robust discussion of our commonly held wildlife “investment” that the agencies manage for us, and review where we are and want to go. A wildlife summit rallies and mobilizes participants around a cause or theme or to passing legislation, or securing funding. Whether hosting a shareholders meeting or a summit, use the State Wildlife Action Plan to focus the conversation.
Consider convening a meeting based on the concept of wildlife as a public trust. People are the shareholders and state wildlife agencies are the managers of that trust. Similar to the way corporations share successes and obstacles in an annual report, a shareholder meeting is a state-of-the-wildlife report with a focus on accomplishments and the challenges ahead. Invite your state wildlife agency to report to the coalition on accomplishments and challenges from the past year, with a focus on implementation of their State Wildlife Action Plan. Expand that invitation to other related agencies and groups to also highlight their work on behalf of wildlife, habitats, and wildlife-related recreation.
You might post a big map of the state and invite participants to write sticky notes with wildlife-related achievements or work in progress in various locations. This technique worked well in a recent series of Monarch Butterfly Summits in the Midwest. The results identify strengths, weaknesses, gaps, and opportunities. A map is energizing to see all the work happening! Hiring a professional facilitator will assure you reap successful outcomes.
Different from a town hall where people are invited to speak up and air complaints, the purpose is to share in a respectful environment. Being transparent and accountable is important to trust building. Rather than focus on all that’s gone right or avoid conflicts, be open about what could be improved and obstacles to success. The goal is to foster constructive dialogue to improve wildlife conservation with all players working together and to develop a shared pathway to go forward.
We know from experience that a wildlife summit is an excellent tool for networking, strategy, and coalition building. While a shareholders meeting concept serves as a place to report, discuss, and build productive relationships, a summit mobilizes groups to be champions and enlists even more supporters. Consider a summit as a way to rally people to the cause. You want everyone to feel they are part of a historic, exciting time for wildlife.
Please see the Wildlife Summit guide for steps to a successful event as well as specific examples from five states (e.g. Missouri). Almost all of the Midwestern states hosted monarch butterfly summits that assembled diverse interests, including some that had never sat at the same table together. Zoos aquariums and botanic gardens are great venues to host such an event.
4. Galvanize for Action
Starting your coalition is one key step. Galvanizing and keeping it engaged is equally important. The Guide to State Wildlife Coalitions includes three essential tips for a galvanized coalition. Share information in a timely manner. Provide easy-to-take clear actions. Keep everyone motivated and focused with an eye on the prize.
Sharing information cannot be undervalued. Your coalition wants to know the latest and greatest news. They want to be kept in the loop and included. Show your members you value their involvement. Not everyone wants all the information, but erring on the side of more to meet all levels of interest. Create digestible, bulleted regular updates. You can always report on coalition member activities, even if there is not yet legislative action.
Take small steps to build the ladder of engagement. Some of your coalition leaders will be heavily invested and bring massive support to the table. Others might have simply signed a letter of support. Creating a menu of small actions can allow your members of differing capacities do what they can. If you make actions as easy as possible, members will likely do more. Creating template materials (draft letter to the editor, draft action alert, draft script) offers short cuts for action. Templates can be especially important for organizations with grassroots power, but no time to create their own action alert.
Aside from the basics of informing and engaging the coalition, you will want to provide inspiration! Reminding them of successes to date, the importance of the campaign’s goals, the differences they can make—all in strong positive language—will keep them at the table. They joined your coalition to make a difference. Remind them of their power to do so. Credit them when they do. Many small accomplishments add up to a strong foundation for the larger campaign. Inspire to create the momentum for the next stage. Offer hope!
More funding for state fish and wildlife agencies often serves as a common denominator, allowing groups with differing interests to work together and forge stronger relationships. While they may differ on certain funding priorities, they likely support more dollars targeted to reverse the wildlife crisis. Often, the strongest state coalitions are those that include diverse funding goals (e.g. wildlife and parks, or wildlife and water, and arts and culture (see Minnesota).
Missouri is the first, and one of only a few states with expanded funding for the Missouri Department of Conservation. The Conservation Federation of Missouri, an NWF affiliate, was integral to an impressive coalition formed in the 1970s. Their campaign was entitled the Design for Conservation and called for a one-eighth-of-one-cent sales tax. These groups came together for a diversity of projects that met the coalition’s similarly diverse goals, as detailed in this history on the state’s website.
Design for Conservation called for creating community lakes for close-to-home fishing, research on endangered species, developing stream accesses and, above all, more public land for recreation and species conservation. The carefully planned road map has become a national model for conservation.
Minnesota Coalition—Merging Wildlife with Parks, Arts, Clean Water, Trails
The Minnesota Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment passed in 2008 as a ballot measure, because of its broad, successful coalition. The constitutional amendment creates a dedicated and stable funding source through an increase of the sales tax for clean water, parks and trails, arts and culture, and habitat restoration. Note that by bringing more interests into the coalition, the support broadened. Today, the outcomes are clearly documented and easy to access—assuring continued popularity for the program. Please see this link to: Minnesota’s Legacy- Watch the Progress, Monitor the Funds.
- Build a Coalition Worksheet
- Forming and leading a coalition
- State coalition members ideas
- Hosting a state summit/shareholders meeting
- Guide to hosting a summit or shareholders meeting
- State examples (Nebraska, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Washington)
- Monarch Butterfly State Summit Guide and Examples
- Draft a vision for the future
Header photo credit: Austin Ban