Community Organizing

Key Steps for doing community outreach

1. WHAT: Community outreach means connecting with people.
  • Community outreach can take many forms such as door-to-door canvassing, hosting an event, raising awareness about an issue using social media, conducting a phone survey, just chatting with someone over coffee and more.
2. WHO: Build a diverse team that will be a bridge between your cause and the people you are trying to connect with.
  • Community outreach is a team effort and requires a wide range of skills and abilities including good people skills, organizational skills, communication skills and more.
  • Get input and ideas from everyone on your team.
3. HOW: Suggestions for doing effective community outreach.
  • Define your goals. Ask yourself, what am I or my group trying to achieve? The more focused, the easier it is for you to convey your message and reach your target audience.
  • Know your audience. Targeting everyone means reaching no one. Try to understand who you’re trying to reach and the best ways to engage with them. For instance, what type of messaging and communication channels work best (flyers, social media, door-to-door, participation in community meetings, gathering local leader support first because of low trust, etc)? Do most residents speak English or other languages? Has this community been impacted by specific issues in the past?
  • Respect the community. Connect with community leaders to understand what works best. Avoid imposing your agenda on the community or demanding the community listen to you. Use the opportunity to build relationships and connections.
  • Work with the community. Go with the flow. This means meet people where they’re at. Find out where community members gather and figure out how you can connect with people in those locations, programs, etc.
  • Build allies and partners. Try to understand and leverage mutual interests and common goals.
  • Execution. Work with people from the community to do the actual outreach. Ask people to volunteer or offer paid work. Engage with community organizations, faith groups and others to get support.
  • Learn and improve. Learn from successes and mistakes and integrate information and knowledge as you go. 11.Keep notes about what you learn and collect contact information. You may want to map out a neighbourhood and make note of the dynamics of the neighbourhood. Keep a good record of contact information from the outset.
  • Prepare and practice your messaging or your ‘elevator pitch’. Tailor your message to your audience. If you are speaking in an informal setting, use everyday language that people can relate to.
Tips: Dos & Don’ts
  • DO listen more and talk less.
  • DO build trust and rapport.
  • DO be persistent and stay optimistic. It takes time to engage people.
  • DO work in a way that makes you feel safe. If you feel threatened or uncomfortable with a situation it’s better to move on. If you meet an angry community member, try to defuse the situation and move on.
  • DON’T demand or force community members to listen to you. Not everyone is open to listening and that’s okay.
  • DON’T expect to reach your goals in one event or outing.
Why it's useful to do community outreach
  • Community outreach can help empower community members to be aware of issues and decisions that knowingly or unknowingly impacting their lives.
  • Community outreach is an avenue for bottom-up driven change and an important way to first better understand community level needs and challenges in order to drive meaningful impact on decisions.
  • Community outreach is important for building connections and pathways for collaboration to address issues.

Key Steps for holding a community meeting or event

1. WHAT: A community meeting or event is a way to bring people together around a particular topic, interest or goal. Typically, community events are more celebratory in nature and aren’t as formal. 2. WHO: Strive to be inclusive and reach out to community leaders, groups and organizations when organizing a meeting or event.
  • Putting together a community meeting and event is a community-building exercise in itself. Make the organizing process fun, inclusive and work to accommodate the needs of everyone.
3. HOW: Suggestions for holding a community meeting or event.
  • Prepare early for your meeting or event. Start planning at least one month or earlier for a meeting. If you are planning an event, depending on the size of the event, planning should start a couple of months beforehand.
  • Create a planning committee if possible. This is a group of people that will take responsibility for different components of the meeting and/or event.
  • First, set a date, time and place for the meeting or event. You may need a permit to book a space or you may need to talk to community agencies to see if you can book a room or space. Make back-up plans in case of bad weather. Set a date and time that will work best for who you are trying to target.
  • Develop and set a goal: Why are you doing the meeting or event? Establish a clear goal or objective.
  • Develop a plan for the meeting or event. For a meeting, make an agenda. For an event, make a list of what will be happening at the event. Think about your audience when inviting guest speakers and developing the program. What is likely to interest and involve everyone? The group should know what to expect before attending a meeting. You should be clear about what is being planned, how the meeting is going to be run, and who is going to play what role. Make sure not to overload the agenda. Once the agenda is set make sure that the meeting starts and ends on time.
  • Develop a budget for the meeting or event: This step needs to go hand-in-hand with the step above. You need to know what budget you have to work with when planning your event. You may already have funds or you may need to apply for grants or seek out sponsors and/or community partners.
  • Develop outreach materials and outreach plans. Decide who your target is and develop outreach materials and plans that best fit that group (see Key Steps for Doing Community Outreach). You’ll want to consider multiple outreach tactics ranging from flyers to use of social media. You’ll also have to consider translation.
  • Implement meeting or event. Follow your plan. For events, take photos so you can share what you have done in the future. Be sure to indicate at the event that you are taking photos.
  • Online meetings. During the pandemic, most meetings are happening online using Zoom and other tools.
  • Debrief after the meeting or event. Talk about successes and lessons learned. Celebrate your work!
  • Tips: Dos & Don’ts
    • DO plan early and make a checklist of everything that needs to get done.
    • DO make the meeting or event inclusive and welcoming for all community members.
    • DO enable community members to interact and be part of the event in an active way (sharing ideas, chatting with other people, etc).
    • - DON’T stick to your plan too rigidly. For example, if community members get excited about a topic on the agenda, adjust your plans and allot more time for that agenda item.
Why it's useful to hold a community event or meeting
  • Community meetings or events can help rally people around a particular vision, topic or action.
  • Community meetings or events create a space that helps to build community. People meet their neighbours, learn about community programs, find out about other people who care about issues and more.

Best Practices for Working with Grassroots Community Groups

Nita Goswami & Leah Yuyitung (July 2020)

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