Who will form the membership?


A coalition is made up of members that are broadly united in their commitment to a common cause. There are really two fundamental formal questions that need to be addressed regarding a membership: who can be a member and what must members agree to? We also consider the importance of growing the network of members over time and expectations regarding the work of those members.

Who can be a member?

Different coalitions have different parameters of membership, some more formally defined than others. Most coalitions discussed in this paper have non- government organisations (NGOs) as the basic unit of membership, but others allow individuals, trade unions, local authorities and even UN agencies. Some coalitions, such as IANSA, have different defined categories of membership for different types of organisation or individual.

Some considerations:

  • For campaigning, having parameters as to who or what can be a member should make it more likely that the coalition can agree to a strong call and stick together for the duration required.
  • Basing membership around organisations rather than individuals is likely to change how the coalition represents itself – its motivation and justification is likely to come from the professional experience of the organisations that comprise it.
  • If based on institutions, is it necessary or beneficial to require proof of institutional status? In some countries, or sectors of work, there are numerous organisations that are essentially individuals operating under an institutional name, with little or no formal structure.
  • If individuals are excluded from membership, what do you lose? Many coalitions have benefited from the energy and expertise of individuals without institutional affiliations. Can mechanisms be found to keep such individuals engaged?
  • Working through national or regional coordinating bodies can be a powerful way of increasing the size of the membership while maintaining a sense of engagement and purpose among key members. Done sensitively it can help to avoid or manage possible tensions between members in one country. On the other hand it can create tensions between organisations competing for coordinating status.
  • It is important to remember coalition members will often have many other items on their agendas. While a certain level of engagement should be expected in order to be part of the coalition, this needs to be realistic in relation to the different demands that member organisations face.

Effective national partners are vital to the work of the coalition – so the development of the membership needs to include the partnerships that can facilitate the coalition’s goal through national advocacy.


Membership of the ICBL and CMC is open to non-governmental organisations. There is no membership fee. To become a member there is a three step process:
1. Endorse the ‘calls to action’ by the CMC and ICBL
2. Agree to abide by the ‘ICBL-CMC Membership Pledge’
3. Submit a completed ‘Application Form’
The ‘calls to action’ set out the basic purpose and objectives of the two campaigns. The membership pledge sets out what could be considered the rights and responsibilities of members. The application form covers contact details, information about the applicant organisation and asks for some details about what work the applicant organisation is going to do to further the aims of the two campaigns.

“Sometimes big organisations can struggle to understand that you cant always get what you want. Smaller organisations are often more used to accepting certain things on a pragmatic basis.
But that can be difficult for some organisationsto swallow – the idea of going with the majority.”

Daniel Mack, Instituto Sou da Paz

What must the members agree to?

As discussed previously, a coalition is likely to be formed around a common call; a shared language that serves both to direct the coalition and define its boundaries. Most coalitions require members in some way to endorse the express mission of the coalition as a whole. Beyond this basic step, other coalitions require members to accept and respect constitutional documents – articles that lay out the rights and responsibilities of members and the formalised administrative processes of the coalition. Some coalitions require members to pay annual subscriptions, but many don’t.

Expectations of Coalition Members:

  • A coalition should expect members to do some work for the cause and place them under some obligation to do so (on paper at least). Coalition membership can be made conditional on making efforts to respond to ’action alerts‘ and other appeals for assistance from the coalition. Of course, it might not be possible for people to respond to everything the coalition asks of them, but a mechanism can be put in place to encourage action and to ask questions of those that systematically fail to engage.
  • Beyond the call, or mission, it is quite difficult for a coalition to force centrally agreed policy on its membership, so good communication is needed to promote adoption of central policy. Alternativepolicy positions need to be engaged thoughtfully. Policy points around which there is ongoing concern or disagreement need to be sufficiently worked through with stakeholders before decisions are finalised.
  • While being wary of becoming overly bureaucratic, it is worth considering some rules regarding use of the coalition’s brand identity. Inappropriate use of the coalition’s name and logo by a member can reduce credibility with key partners and without rules to refer to, the coalition might have no ability to stop it from happening again.
  • In some coalitions, members must sign up to further commitments regarding conduct and behaviour if they are registering for meetings under the coalition umbrella or receiving funding through a sponsorship programme.
  • Although many coalitions don’t require members to pay subscriptions there may be advantages to such a requirement in addition to generating income. Pointing to the membership as a source of funding strengthens the coalition’s claim to legitimacy. Payment of subscriptions also requires authorisation from within member organisations and can help ensure that coalition membership has deeper buy-in. For many NGO coalitions subscriptions are likely to be complicated to administer and if sufficient to provide a base of income, probably off-putting for many would- be members.

Structure of the membership

Another important consideration is whether the coalition will promote its own representative bodies at national or regional levels. For example, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines benefited from the establishment of national campaigns, where one person or organisation coordinated a further coalition at national level. This provided a mechanism for clearly identifying campaign leaders in different countries, which creates efficiencies when much of the lobbying requires policy change at a national level. Such an approach helps international coordination and can greatly strengthen national level advocacy if those national level coordinators are in turn effective coalition builders at home.

For example, the Aotearoa New Zealand Cluster Munition Coalition (ANZCMC) is a national network of 24 local non-governmental organisations established on 22 March 2007 in support of the international call to stop cluster munitions from harming civilians. Coordinated by Mary Wareham, the ANZCMC worked to ensure that the New Zealand government took strong leadership in the ‘Oslo Process’ to create an international instrument banning cluster munitions.

How can we grow the membership over time?

A strong coalition should have sufficient breadth of expertise to represent the issue it is tackling in its different aspects. So for coalitions on weapons issues, organisations have provided expertise on development impacts, international humanitarian and human rights law, medical impact on individuals, survivor rights, post-conflict clear-up as well as the technical characteristics of the weapons in question.

Functioning as an expert group, a coalition does not need to have a very large membership in order to be effective.

Breadth of geographical engagement as well as thematic expertise not only projects wide support for the aims of the coalition but is also likely to be strategically important for lobbying towards international policy change. For many governments, policy change will start at the national level and so it is here that the campaign’s membership has a critical role.

People involved in growing campaign memberships have highlighted word-of-mouth recommendations of organisations and in particular individuals as fundamental to this work. Identify people with a track record of action at a national or regional level as targets for recruitment.

National and regional meetings are important tools for bringing people together, advocating the coalition’s mission to potential members interested in the themes being discussed, and building members’ sense of direct participation and engagement with the wider network.

Are the members sufficiently active?

Not all members of a coalition will be consistently active. The steering group and any coalition staff need to be sufficiently engaged with the wider membership to make sure members are taking the issue forward at a national level.

Proposals and suggestions for action, either from the central structure or the membership, should provide a basis for dialogue between members and coalition staff – although the latter needs to be constantly questioning whether they are promoting engagement by members or doing their work for them. Partnerships between wealthier steering group organisations and members in different regions can also provide a mechanism for strengthening capacity and engagement.

While small grants can change relationships between the coalition and the membership, they do provide an important mechanism for motivating member organisations. As we have noted already, many such organisations will have various demands on their time, yet for organisations in the global ‘South’ – operating on significantly more limited budgets than their colleagues in the wealthier ‘North’ – a modest amount of money can facilitate a substantial amount of work.

“In the end the economy of the world is dominated by the west. Most of the capacity is with northern, white organisations. People living in affected countries are experiencing most acutely the issues we are campaigning about, but often have no budget and zillions of competing priorities. So there is a limit to what can be done to rebalance coalitions. Sensitively handling this issue is key. All coalitions claim to speak on behalf of members but some have a greater claim than others.”

Anthea Lawson, Global Witness


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