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2014 Toolkit

Build Community Coalitions

Download the Word version of “Build Community Coalitions” (2,530 KB).


Community coalitions are alliances of people representing different organizations that work together to achieve a common goal. They are critical to the success of National Recovery Month (Recovery Month), an annual observance that promotes behavioral health is essential to one’s overall health, and the fact that prevention works, treatment is effective, and people recover from mental and substance use disorders.

Effective coalitions combine the resources of multiple organizations and individuals to convey a strong message. Widespread support achieved by coalitions can help educate broader audiences about how mental and/or substance use disorders can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender, or income status. This document provides details on how to form a community coalition or partnership, starting with how to research and identify groups and individuals to partner with.

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Learn the Specifics…

Coalitions are comprised of a wide range of individuals and organizations. Some coalitions represent business, education, and religious or social groups, including the behavioral health community. Others may work on behalf of an elected official. Not all coalition members have to be affiliated with an organization; however, it’s vital for members to share common goals. For example, if the coalition is related to Recovery Month, coalition members should have the common focus of promoting prevention, treatment, and recovery support services for mental and substance use disorders.

To support Recovery Month, you can either join an existing group or create your own coalition. Joining an existing coalition requires less effort for an individual or organization. However, by creating a coalition, individuals and organizations gain greater flexibility to select members who are aligned with the coalition’s goals and strategic direction.

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Create a Coalition…

If creating a coalition is the most appropriate option, there are tips to help streamline the process and make the coalition as successful as possible. Individuals or organizations should ask the following questions before creating a coalition:

  • What issues are important? What are the goals of this coalition? By assessing the local behavioral health environment, coalitions can identify the opportunities and challenges in the community. These issues may be related to prevalence of mental and/or substance use disorders, affected populations, or the availability of prevention, treatment, and recovery support services.
  • What organizations or individuals closely support this coalition’s goals and intended outcomes? Identify people and organizations that will make influential and positive contributions to a Recovery Month coalition. Search for those affiliated with state or local chapters of prominent national prevention, treatment, and recovery support organizations, as well as other individuals who can make a difference in the community. Refer to the “Single State Agency Directory” ( in this toolkit for state and local services, as well as the “Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Resources” ( list for national and local organizations, and the “Planning Partners” ( section for organizations dedicated to the Recovery Month effort. 
  • Are local organizations or behavioral health-focused coalitions already active in this area? Monitor the news for recent stories about mental and/or substance use disorders, and observe organizations or individuals who are involved in the discussions on these issues. Organizations with potential resources and expertise needed to build a successful coalition around mental and/or substance use disorders are included in the following list:
    • Adult independent-living communities;
    • Child welfare organizations;
    • Criminal justice system representatives and organizations;
    • Elected officials;
    • Foundations and volunteer groups;
    • Government agencies;
    • Health-related organizations;
    • Individual and family therapists;
    • Mental health organizations;
    • Military associations;
    • National and local media outlets;
    • Neighborhood clubs;
    • Nonprofit organizations;
    • Prevention groups;
    • Private companies and businesses;
    • Recovery and peer-to-peer support groups;
    • Recovery bloggers;
    • Recovery community;
    • Religious organizations;
    • Schools, universities, and the educational community;
    • Treatment and recovery organizations; and
    • Veterans’ associations.

It’s important for relationships within a coalition to be mutually beneficial. For a coalition to be most effective, each member must be committed to the mission and willing to work collaboratively. Take the following steps to ensure robust participation and to maximize results:

  • Recruit members to the coalition. Contact potential allies and invite them to join the coalition. Be sure to mention any references or existing connections within their organization that will incite further interest or establish credibility. When recruiting others to participate in the effort, have substantive materials to present, describing the mission, goals, and vision of the coalition to advance prevention, treatment, and recovery support services. Have a proper role within the coalition for each partner already identified. The following tools will help recruit members and build a coalition from the ground up:
  • Hold regular meetings during the coalition-formation process. Members must work collaboratively to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship. Due to busy schedules, bi-weekly or monthly meetings may be more feasible than holding weekly meetings. Online tools, such as Lync (, WebEx (, and iMessage (, make it easier to collaborate and allow people to work remotely, rather than at the same location.
  • Develop an order of operations. For the coalition to be successful, keep in mind these guidelines:
    • Set priorities and goals;
    • Be respectful of time commitments;
    • Decide the coalition’s leadership early in its development;
    • Allow all members to have an active role in planning and decision making;
    • Identify a leader to moderate and make final decisions;
    • Agree on a communication process and responsibility for maintaining it;
    • Prepare a budget for activities and assign a person to manage it; and
    • Identify a main contact person to coordinate members.

A Proven Coalition Model…

Community coalitions have helped bring awareness to issues surrounding mental and substance use disorders for years. The Recovery Month campaign uses a coalition of Recovery Month Planning Partners. Organized in 1997, the Planning Partners include groups involved in the mental health and substance use prevention and treatment fields. The group works together to establish goals and set priorities for Recovery Month every year. For a list of the Planning Partners, refer to the “Planning Partners” ( directory in this toolkit. Additionally, SAMHSA, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and the U.S. Department of Justice fund hundreds of community partnerships throughout the country. The Drug Free Communities Support Program (DFC) ( is a Federal grant program that provides funding to community-based coalitions that organize to prevent youth substance use. Since the passage of the DFC Act in 1997, the DFC program has funded nearly 2,000 coalitions and currently mobilizes nearly 9,000 community volunteers across the country.

Inclusion of websites and other resources mentioned in this document and on the Recovery Month website does not constitute official endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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