Iowa has numerous nonprofit substance misuse prevention coalitions across the state that were working primarily within their local and individual communities. Several leaders recognized that they could pool their resources and knowledge to benefit each other and have a wider impact. The Alliance of Coalitions for Change (AC4C), led by two part-time employees and countless volunteers also saw an opportunity and pushed for a partnership that would heighten the individual impacts the local coalitions were having,

The primary goals of AC4C are to encourage collaboration with youth in local communities, form partnerships with community stakeholders, and engage government officials. Furthermore, the AC4C encourages the disparate groups around the state to articulate and repeat the same key messages. Partnerships and collaborations will create sustainability of the programs, will build trust from partners and candidates, will keep the community engaged and involved, will raise awareness to substance abuse, and will create a meaningful change to the community.

Problem Addressed

Uniting people of diverse interests and backgrounds can be a challenging task. In the state of Iowa, numerous local communities were funded by federal Drug-Free Community Support grants and other sources to fund their efforts around substance misuse prevention. As this work continued, accessing these funds became more competitive. Other issues may arise and pile up if the root concern will not be addressed immediately and properly. Questions around sustainability and capacity needed answers, but with diversity causing communication issues, delays on projects, that will eventually create bigger conflicts – urgent guidance and help is needed. A new model – a state-wide coalition – was one option for moving forward. With each local coalition comfortable with the status quo, however, this new coalition, led by AC4C, needed to communicate the “why” for the collaborative model and the roadmap that would lead to a successful collection of coalitions who were able to serve the state in new and innovative ways. Aligning the diverse interests of each of the local coalitions was also a challenge AC4C faced.

Solutions Used

Hue Life Facilitators relied on a variety of techniques to help craft and then steer people toward a common set of goals.

  • Basic Facilitation Tools. To build capacity and work toward sustainability, facilitators used a variety of tools such as the ToP® Wall of Wonder. This tool helped the group discern the trends in actions that had been taken around prevention and led to the identification of strategies that were needed to sustain the work going forward. This led to the development of action plans that facilitated the execution of those strategies.
  • Communication Platforms. A ToP® Consensus Workshop was utilized to discern the reasons why raising the beer tax in Iowa was a needed legislative change. Participants brainstormed the reasons for raising this tax and then centered it on their “top 5.” This led to the creation of a unified message and communication strategy (including a video) that was shared with the state legislature and other key players to secure additional revenue that could go to state-wide drug misuse prevention.
  • Engagement. Monthly coalition action team meetings were held virtually to align the efforts of the unique foci of the collaboratively created action plans. These sustained and collaborative efforts led to stronger buy-in and motivation to complete the work assigned. They also opened new networks of people and resources for the individual coalitions to tap into to help them at their local level.

Currently, 30 coalitions, across 35 Iowa counties, make up AC4C. Of these coalitions, 36.7% have joined AC4C over the past five years. Coalition members, school-aged volunteers, and other state partners gave 93,710 volunteer hours to AC4C efforts from 2014 to 2018, equivalent to over $2.2 million of in-kind contributions. Ultimately, AC4C became an asset to the local coalitions in developing connections beyond their local networks. These expanded networks include people in powerful positions at the state level and provided the ability to align legislative agendas around prevention and into a unified state-wide initiative.

Lessons Learned

Impact to the society of drug-related initiatives and programs are undeniably vital, but to make these initiatives and programs effective and sustainable, people behind it must develop a set of skills that will fundamentally make a stronger program structure. In addition, people’s joined efforts are best to create change if they are used effectively.


“AC4C came along as a statewide community-based organization and it was a great opportunity for coalitions that were on their own to share their successes and failures. In addition, they could speak with a unified voice. AC4C took the coalition to the next level – very timely to work at the state level.”

– Dale Woolery, Iowa Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy

Who should consider this training?

Nonprofits and others who want to band together to tackle shared challenges collectively, pool resources and efforts for the greater good, and develop strategic and communication plans that provide the means and motivation necessary for making changes and accomplishing shared goals. Training should be a regular activity for AC4C and other organizations-with-causes. It will help them improve the overall system and programs in place while adapting to the changes happening not just in the society or in the program candidates, but also with the people involved and working behind these projects.

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