By Russell L. Diedrich
Community outreach is an essential element to providing assistance and services to runaway and homeless youth, and what’s more, it’s generally requisite for securing operational funding from various federal and private sources; therefore, it’s vital to be prepared in order to get your foot in the door of outreach places.
The purpose of this document is to serve as an aid for those requesting permission from administrative staff to conduct outreach at businesses and during community events within designated counties. These instructions are tried and true and derived from experience; however, don’t feel obligated to execute all of them precisely — this document was created merely to provide a framework of basic performance procedures before, during, and after interactions with management and other staff of potential community outreach destinations.
Please feel free to distribute this information with anyone interested in gaining access to local businesses and other public organizations with the intention of performing community outreach in a professional capacity.
Do your homework. It’s good practice to research an organization to learn who’s who. If you know the owner/operator or manager by name, the likelihood that outreach will be approved grows in favor of your program; not only that, but it’s professional, and that’s the best image to project upon first impression.
Set a meeting. A meeting is essential to attain the undivided attention of whoever is responsible for determining your eligibility to perform outreach at a particular business or community event. Make every effort to contact personnel with the authority to approve or disapprove outreach and set a mutually agreed upon time to meet. Everyone plans differently, so do what works best for you. Checklists are as simple as they are useful, and reminders from electronic devices are handy as well. Being on time is important, but arriving too early may be problematic. Get there between five and ten minutes early; it demonstrates determination without appearing overeager.
Dress to impress. If you’re going to meet with someone important, match their magnitude with your appearance — but don’t overdo it. This can be tricky, so prior investigation of your destination, its mission, and any administrative staff you’ll be meeting with will assist in suiting up a positive initial rapport.
Let them do the talking. If you convey a genuine interest in what they do, it’s likely that they’ll put forward their full attention when you’re sharing information about what you do. Moreover, knowledge of their business will better prepare you for outreach there, and it may benefit your organization with regard to future cooperative events and networking potential.
Sharing (and sparing) your information. This is not as easy as it sounds. Some people want all the news, and others want just the facts. But how are you to accurately determine what these particulars are from one person to the next? Truth is you can’t. Employ simple and effective language to outline your organization’s offerings and hope for the best. Understand going in that many company policies rival material distribution, and potentially distracting patrons from spending money is also a factor, so be prepared to hear and accept a negative response. Also, be ready to answer their questions. If you’re unable to do so, explain honestly that you can’t, but you’ll find out, and get back to them as soon as possible — always be sure to follow up.
No matter what, be gracious. Thank them for their time, shake hands and prepare for future outreach events, or move on to the next establishment and try again. Remember: never take it personally — they may be restricted by policies that are out of their control. Still, it’s not a bad idea to exchange information. After all, things may change over time. In some circumstances the boss’ boss may wish to meet with you. This calls for tighter preparation and most likely some time to arrange another meeting — don’t be intimidated, be prepared.
Respect the unexpected. If a meeting isn’t in the cards, do your best to stop in at a time when the place isn’t too busy. A fast-food restaurant or videogame arcade could mean heavy foot traffic. Be patient and wait until the smoke clears. If you’re pushy, it’s possible that they won’t consider your request. Word-of-mouth can hit the brakes, so it’s wise to wait your turn.
Notify appropriate staff. Upon arrival, always check-in; in fact, consider it mandatory. Sometimes staff might not have a clue as to who you are and deny access to the facility. This is easy to avoid: simply suggest during your initial meeting with an administrator that he or she notify other staff concerning outreach workers visiting the establishment in the future.
“Please” & “Thank You”. Politeness nowadays is increasingly becoming “old school,” yet its importance remains spanking new; and it instills reassurance and can greatly affect the reputation of your organization. It’s startling how often simple courtesies are disregarded, and allowing this ignorance to evolve into bad habits is a surefire way to blur the mission of your organization, limiting its overall productivity.
Be safe. Never embark on an “iffy” outreach venture. If it looks unsafe, chances are that it is.
Get things done. It’s okay to have fun, but stay focused and do your job. Have a goal and strive to make it happen. Bear in mind that, while outreach work is unlike any other job in so many fantastic ways, you are still a professional, and it’s crucial to carry out your responsibilities in that fashion.
“I am here on behalf of an exceptional runaway prevention program that works out of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley in Appleton.”
“The Runaway Program is made up of six AmeriCorps members and a Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley staff supervisor.”
“Our purpose here today is to ask your permission to conduct outreach for youth and young adults. Street outreach is a vital component of our program’s success and has been proven to lessen runaway habits amongst people age 17 and under.”
“We offer Street Smart Resource Guides, which are basically miniature human service phone books. We’ve actually gone to every organization listed to ensure that they are current, positive, and uncomplicated for those seeking services.”
“We do not distract anyone from contributing to your business. We are sensitive to people’s privacy; we won’t approach or engage anyone who appears opposed.”
“We like to be a familiar face for kids. When they see us at the places they go, it immediately creates another option for them. Confronted with crisis, they are more likely to think of contacting us instead of running away from home.”
The examples above are a condensed into a list of (arguably) the most necessary information to share with an agency when requesting permission to conduct outreach there — a “pitch,” if you will. As the prompts listed are site-specific, adjustments are required for individual organizations to summarize the functions of their programs, missions, etc. Fundamentals within each example should be evident. Change the words (i.e. salutations, organizations, resource provisions, etc.) as they pertain to your program. In addition, please note the order of the prompts listed above: on the contrary to terminology, the arrangement of the cues should not be altered much, but bear in mind that some of these prompts may not be included in your pitch. For example, you wouldn’t introduce yourself to someone if you previously set up a meeting and already exchanged names with them.
When you’re finished introducing yourself and the establishment you represent, provide addressees with any materials highlighting the fine points of your organization’s offerings and look forward to the fruits of your thorough endeavor.