To have effective community conversations, it’s important to get as many different kinds of people involved as possible. A program that involves a broad cross-section of the community is more likely to benefit the community as a whole. And, having a diverse mix of participants helps make for lively and rewarding dialogue.
1. Review your recruitment goals.
First, the coalition must decide how many and what kinds of people you are trying to reach. Refer back to the recruitment goals generated when you first met. Now, it’s time to get specific about your objectives. Ask yourselves:
- How many people do we need to involve to bring about the changes we are aiming for?
- Who are the different kinds of people we need to recruit to make our program diverse? (Be sure to think about multiple kinds of diversity.)
- Why would people from each of these groups want to participate?
- What might keep people in each group from participating?
- Are there groups or individuals on our coalition who can reach out to groups not yet involved? If not, who can help to spark their interest?
2. Develop talking points.
This will help keep your message clear and consistent. As a coalition, role-play describing the dialogue to action effort to each other so members become familiar with the messages. The goal is for all members to be comfortable asking friends, family members, co-workers, and community members to participate in the dialogues. They should be able to give a brief overview about the program, talk about what issue they’ll be addressing and why it’s important.
3. Plan outreach strategies.
Combine personal invitations and general publicity. As a rule of thumb, people need to hear the same message at least three times before it begins to register.
A personal invitation is the best recruiting strategy. There is no substitute! You can do this through face-to-face visits and through phone calls. The coordinator and coalition members can introduce the program to lots of people by speaking at community groups or meetings.
You may want to supplement your in-person invitations with other tools such as flyers, brochures, Facebook announcements, blog posts, or radio interviews. Be creative!
Whenever possible, give people a chance to take part in a sample dialogue. Be sure to allow plenty of time for questions and answers. Explain how the program can help them make a difference on the issue, form new partnerships and relationships, and strengthen their own organization. Capture the excitement that is generated on the spot by having sign-up forms with you.
To ensure your dialogues include a diverse group of people, design your sign-up sheet to collect basic information – such as name, age, occupation, gender, neighborhood, ethnic/racial group – and then use that data to help arrange diverse groups. Make sure you ask people for their preferred times and days for participating in the dialogues.
4. Give coalition members recruiting assignments.
Ask the members of your coalition to reach out to people in their networks. You may even want to set specific recruitment goals for each member.
Think about people who can spread the word to their entire network and tap into their resources. Reach out to leaders of businesses, nonprofits, faith communities, clubs, and other organizations. If community members hear the message from someone they trust, they will be more likely to participate. And, it’ll make recruitment easier because you won’t have to sign up each person individually.
5. Take extra steps to recruit underrepresented groups.
One of the biggest challenges is to recruit people who don’t often get involved in community events. This will take extra work, but without it, you will be missing many important voices in your program.
To reach out to groups you may not be a part of, you have to take time to establish trust. If you can, find a spokesperson or leader in that community that can help spread the word. Sometimes they can be found in unlikely places such as barbershops or restaurants.