The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) just issued the Street Outreach Program (SOP) FY ’13 Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA),* which offers an opportunity for us to describe a common funder program paradigm: outreach. Last week, faithful readers will recall that we blogged about yet another outreach program: Health Navigators.
Not all of our readers are likely hip to outreach program design. In essence, all outreach programs use more or less the same design and have changed little since the halcyon days of outreach of the 1970s. Actually, this is not entirely true: these days a soupçon of social media should be added to the outreach stew, but otherwise things remain the same.
Unless there is a static client input stream (e.g., domestic violence offenders being court-referred), almost all human services programs require some outreach component; even if the RFP doesn’t require one, smart, imaginative grant writers will include outreach anyway. An SOP or Health Navigator proposal is just a gigantic outreach effort, but the basic structure of outreach can be applied to most any project design.
The point of outreach is to connect some target population with something that is supposed to improve their life outcomes (free proposal phrase here). Within this context (another free proposal phrase here), there are two basic types of outreach: local and regional/statewide. Local outreach almost always includes:
- One-on-one information meetings conducted with the staff of other providers to give them the good news about the program, so that they will refer their eligible clients.
- Presentations to community groups, faith-based organizations and any other group that has a constituency that could benefit from the program, or, barring that, any other constituency that can be gathered in one place at one time.
- Press releases to whatever print media that remains alive in your target area.
- Radio and TV public service announcements (PSAs), although these have largely been superseded by YouTube uploads.
- Direct mailings and email blasts, using as many mailing lists as you can find and/or develop.
- Widespread distribution of posters and other printed material touting the project’s message, ideally in every language spoken by the target population, up to and including Elbonian.
- The ever-popular “street-based” outreach, which requires a brave Outreach Worker to actually leave the comforts of their warm agency nest and venture out to where the target population hangs out: parks, community centers, welfare offices, public housing projects, liquor store parking lots, minimarts, barber shops, basket ball courts, and so on.
- Use of Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, group texting, and whatever other “new” media seems plausible. We’re often tempted to include a social media tool that doesn’t actually exist, but we choose the path of righteous honesty and have not actually done so.
- The only real question is whether to use a dedicated outreach worker, usually a peer of the target population, or a portion of the time of other proposed staff. Keep in mind that having a dedicated outreach person can lead to unfortunate acronyms like “Peer Outreach Worker” (POW), or even worse (particularly for female target populations): a Community Outreach Worker. You’ve been warned, watch your acronyms!
For regional/statewide outreach initiatives like Health Navigators, one or both of the following complications are usually added to make the funder think you’ll actually find eligible clients in distant places:
- Propose a hub-and-spoke system with a circuit riding Outreach Worker. Your agency is the hub in Minneapolis and you find collaborators in Owatonna, Climax, Blue Earth, and Sleepy Eye Minnesota, to periodically host an Outreach Worker. She’s in Blue Earth on Tuesdays, Climax on Thursdays, and so forth. When in Sleepy Eye, the Outreach Worker reaches out, using the above toolkit. If you’re really frisky, you can open small site offices in other towns, so the Outreach Worker has a place to nest and preen while visiting.
- Use a train-the-locals approach in which your Outreach Worker trains staff or volunteers from indigenous organizations in the region to conduct the various outreach strategies, using social media to watch over her dispersed brood.
Now you know how to develop an outreach component: no need to convene a group-think, draw circles and arrows on white boards, and eat donuts.
* For those of you keeping score at home, this makes it the DHHS ACF FYSB SOP FOA. I know it looks like cryptography, but the acronym is actually just your tax dollars at work.