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Building and Sustaining Substance Abuse Prevention Coalitions

Historically, coalitions have formed to address and combat problematic social issues such as violence, disease, crime, underage drinking and substance abuse. Coalitions consist of diverse groups of people pursuing a common goal.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Community How To Guides on Underage Drinking Prevention: Coalition Building DOT HS 809 209, March 2001, outlines eight steps to building a coalition.

  1. Search the landscape - Before starting a coalition, determine whether similar organizations are already in existence in your community. Discuss your issues with existing coalitions to determine similarities and differences in your goals for forming a coalition. Determine whether or not your coalition should become part of another coalition.
  2. Brainstorm ideas on potential participants - Create an expansive list of people to include in the coalition effort. Identify key leaders, stakeholders, members from the focus population (youth), diverse members and potential "champions" – people who can lead the effort.
  3. Determine staffing, budget, and resources - Select a coalition director and determine if coalition members will be paid staff or volunteers. Decide where the coalition will be housed. Identify the resources required to conduct the prevention planning effort. If possible, identify where the resources may be obtained.
  4. Invite people to join - Ask potential members to join the coalition through a letter or personal invitation. Invite them to attend an organizing meeting. If possible, have a "champion" or other key leaders from the coalition extend the invitation. Clarify "what's in it for them" and how they can contribute to the coalition. Include youth on your coalition.
  5. Clarify expectations - Develop a list of roles and responsibilities for coalition members. Decide what policies or criteria exist for membership. Include members in developing further expectations.
  6. Do not assume everyone understands the relevant issues - Educate members about substance abuse prevention and underage drinking. Relate this to how they can contribute to the coalition. Encourage members to share information about their organization – what are their goals? How are they funded? What programs or services do they provide?
  7. Develop a vision and mission statement - A vision statement describes what the community will look like if the prevention coalition is successful in its efforts. A mission statement expresses how the coalition will work to achieve this shared vision. Refer to the vision and mission frequently.
  8. Define goals and objectives – Define the goals and objectives of the coalition based on the purpose established through the vision and mission statements.

Building and sustaining a successful substance abuse prevention coalition can be challenging and exciting. These steps can help with the process.