The literature highlights three functions of community coalitions that make them unique from other types of community organizations and entities. First, community coalitions create collaborative capacity among diverse organizations, including health care providers, community groups, grassroots organizations, faith-based groups, universities, and government agencies. Second, community coalitions help their communities to develop the capacity to build social capital that can be applied to other health and social issues. Third, community coalitions are catalysts or agents of change at the local level, advocating for stronger policies, influencing individual health or behavior, and delivering services, among other activities. The functions of community coalitions are also the building blocks of two important theories of community coalitions, the Community Coalition Action Theory (CCAT) and Empowerment Theory.
The CCAT and Empowerment Theory provide useful frameworks for understanding community coalitions and the factors that affect their ability to successfully perform their core functions. The theories highlight the outcomes of coalitions, ranging from community capacity to health and social outcomes. They also demonstrate that coalitions must react to the needs of the community and adapt their collaborative activities according to new community conditions. An assessment of the theories of community coalitions and a review of the body of literature on community coalitions and partnerships yielded six characteristics that can affect coalition functioning and effectiveness. These characteristics include: leadership, membership, structure, operations and processes, strategic vision, and contextual factors. These characteristics can affect the development of community coalitions and their ability to achieve their goals and create change.