Identifying Allies

… a core concept in Leadership Skills and Atlas 109

AlliesConcept description

This concept (effective practice) deals with techniques to help determine potential allies for an initiative or project, and to compare the contributions that potential allies could make.

Ed Wadud’s article in Community Tool Box  (reference below) notes that allies can contribute to success because:

  • They may be willing to share their resources and information to achieve a common goal.
  • The community is more likely to pay attention if there are more people working towards that goal.
Identifying potential allies

Wadud suggests that the easiest way to start recruiting allies is to determine if there are already groups working on the issue, or on similar issues, who might be interested in becoming involved with the project. In a community setting these may be found in community resource inventories, yellow pages, neighbourhood assistance centres, the Chamber of Commerce, or local governments. He suggests the following techniques:

  • Ask those who are doing something about the issue in the community already what are they doing, how it is going, which strategies did they find effective, whether there is some way to collaborate with them.
  • Ask who else might be interested in this issue, even though they may not be acting on it now.
  • Use the “snowball technique,” by asking known allies to list several other groups who are either already working on the issue or who might be interested in helping. This continues by asking each of the allies to identify more potential allies.
  • Write down various community sectors such as religious organizations, businesses and health care, and then identify organizations within each sector who might be potential allies.

Even groups that do not have a direct connection to the issue may have an indirect interest. These secondary allies can be determined by asking:

  • Who does business with the potential allies?
  • Which financial institutions lends and borrows their money?
  • Which organizations and churches do they belong to?
Determining if potential allies care about the issue

Wadud suggests that the next question to ask is which potential allies cares about the issue enough to want to help the project. The more a group benefits from the project’s success, the more willing they will be to cooperate. Groups might have both something to gain and something to lose by helping and question therefore becomes whether the benefits outweigh the costs. Costs here are not just money, but could include group identity, prestige, or time. One should consider, for each of the groups:

  • What are the benefits? What do they gain by helping the project?
  • What are the risks? What might they lose?

These groups can now be approached as potential allies; knowing the risks and benefits they face makes it easier to downplay or eliminate the risks and emphasize the benefits.

Prioritizing potential allies by the power they could bring to the project

Wadud suggests that one way to prioritize the list of potential allies is to rank them by the amount of power that they could potentially bring to the project. As the project progresses this ranking could change as different expertise is needed. Wadud provides the following  grid that could be used to assess each group:

Types of power that potential allies might possess
Type of Power
Members: How many members does the group have? The more members a group has, the less likely it is to be ignored. A group with 500 members shows up at a school board meeting.
Money: Will they donate money to your issue? Donated money and other resources are always welcome in achieving your group’s goals. The local teachers’ union donated money to your group.
Credibility: Do they bring special credibility? A group with strong positive recognition in your community will help bring credibility to your own group. A respected clergyman from a local church speaks on your behalf.
Appeal: Do they have special appeal? Some groups of people have universal appeal, and if your group is connected with them, it will help your image as well. A poster child is used to promote an emotional response.
Network: Are they part of a large, organized network? A group who has lots of other groups in its network is going to have financial resources, credibility, and some political power. The local chapter of the United Way offers staff support to your group.
Reputation: Do they have a reputation for toughness? Groups with a tough reputation may discourage opponents. The local law enforcement officers’ union says they’ll support policy changes for improved safety.
Skills: Do they have special skills? An ally may bring technical, business, or legal skills to your group. Smith, Jones, & Brown’s law firm donates free legal support.
Newsworthy: Are they particularly newsworthy? Some groups may have a reputation or connections in the media that make them newsworthy. If they align with you, that might give positive media attention to your cause. An activist group for children’s rights that recently won a major victory offers to give your group technical support.

Ed Wadud, Recognizing Allies, Community Toolbox, at, accessed 29 February 2016.

Atlas topic and subject

Building Resources (core topic) in Leadership Skills.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 1 March 2016.

Image: FabWeb, at