Know Your Roles: The Secrets of Highly Effective Coalitions

A Partnership Peer Exchange conversation with Ted Lempert of Children Now (California) and Leanne Barrett of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT


Photo courtesy of Colleen Proppe via Flickr

Each month the Partnership for America’s Children hosts “Peer Exchange” sessions, where seasoned leaders from our network get together with Partnership members from across the country. Members share wisdom and inspiration, and discuss pressing issues facing all our organizations.

In April the Partnership hosted Ted Lempert, President of Children Now in California, and Leanne Barrett, Senior Policy Analyst at Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. Ted and Leanne shared strategies for building and managing effective coalitions who speak up for kids with a unified voice. Watch the full recording here.


Children Now manages a statewide network of over 3,400 “pro-kid” California organizations, called The Children’s Movement. Listen to Ted Lempert describe how The Children’s Movement leveraged the size and power of their statewide grassroots network to get the Governor’s attention on a crucial issue facing California families:


The Children’s Movement has a simple requirement to join: that your organization cares about kids and wants to see public policies that support their best interests. 

What has made the Children’s Movement so successful? Their simple “opt-in” approach creates space for a wide variety of viewpoints and types of organizations. The opt-in approach also helps avoid disagreements among members about which issues to prioritize. Don’t agree on a certain issue, or don’t have time to address it? No problem – you don’t have to opt in to that one.


  • It takes a lot of staff time from the coordinating organization to recruit members, and to keep them updated on the issues with tight communications.
  • The coalition is also hard to fund, because unlike most grant opportunities, an informal network is generally not siloed to any one issue area.


Leanne is part of the steering committee for a much more formally-structured coalition called RIght from the Start. This coalition has been extremely successful in advancing early childhood priorities in Rhode Island’s legislature. It was exciting to hear Leanne describe one of the really powerful tactics the coalition has used to build support among capitol insiders for their legislative priorities:

Leanne emphasized trusting relationships among partners as a crucial ingredient for RIght from the Start’s success. Operating in a legislative environment often means that the carefully-deliberated positions the coalition laid out in a planning meeting could be out the window overnight. Being able to pivot quickly during the scrum of legislative session depends heavily on partners trusting each other.


  • With passionate partners and deep expertise, it can be a big challenge to keep the coalition’s list of legislative asks short enough. A concise list of priorities means partners actually have the bandwidth to work on them all during legislative session.
  • Members sometimes struggle to find the time for coalition management and decision-making, on top of their full workloads


Questions & Discussion

Partnership members brought great questions and discussion to the table, including: 

  • How centering equity, parent and/or youth voices have impacted your coalition’s agenda and style of work; 
  • Tips for navigating the tricky waters of diverse political viewpoints among coalition members; and
  • The role of technology like Zoom in ensuring all coalition members can participate fully, whether they speak English, Spanish, or another language.  

Watch the full recording here.