Too many organizations jump into outreach projects without much information about how to reach the target audience. That means from the very beginning they’re set up to waste time, money and resources. But including community health workers in an outreach strategy can change all that.
In this article, we’ll explain how to use a team of CHWs or similar professionals to connect with your audience and achieve your outreach goals. You’ll learn about identifying your target audience, selecting communication channels, and essential elements for successful outreach.
What Is an Outreach Strategy?
An outreach strategy is a planned approach designed to connect with a particular audience or group, usually to deliver information, promoting a product or service, or reaching goals. It involves identifying the target audience, choosing the most effective communication channels, and creating messages or activities that stir up interest in the target recipients.
There’s no one-size-fits-all plan you can follow to put together your outreach strategy. Yours will depend on your project goals, where your community is located, what kind of barriers are in your community, and your own internal barriers, such as staffing or budget.
However, health-based outreach strategies often share common goals. These include goals like raising knowledge about health issues, promoting healthy behaviors, providing access to healthcare services, and improving overall public health outcomes.
Where Community Health Workers Fit In
Now, assuming your outreach strategy shares related goals, compare those with the job functions of a community health worker. Their job functions often match up with the goals of such strategies. These usually include educating and engaging communities, promoting healthy behaviors, providing health-related information and resources, and improving access to healthcare services.
CHWs usually have unique access and connections within the communities they serve. They often have a deep understanding of the community’s culture, language, and social dynamics. So, they can build trust and meaningful relationships with community members to push your outreach further. This access and rapport make CHWs effective in delivering health-related information, services, and support directly to the people within their communities.
CHWs can help you in every of the steps outlined below.
How CHWs Help Define Your Goals and Target Audience
You’ll need to define your goals and identify your target audience before you can create an effective outreach strategy. Ask, for example, what are you trying to accomplish with your outreach efforts? Who are you trying to reach?
A CHW can help with these in a few ways. CHWs can help you get a clearer understanding of health needs and barriers of your population. They can tell you from personal experience what they’re seeing with clients, patients and community members. They can help establish trust between the outreach team and community members, making it easier to set and meet outreach goals
CHWs also have access to hard-to-reach populations within the community. They can help identify these groups and tailor outreach efforts to deal with their particular needs.
Make Strategic Partnerships with Community Health Workers
You and your CHWs aren’t the only ones working on your outreach strategy. You should also be working with community partners to help.
Partners are people or organizations that have a strong connection to the community and have a good understanding of what it needs. By partnering with them, you can tap into their audience and credibility to increase your reach.
Your team of CHWs probably already has a good idea of who some of the partners are. For instance, they might be faith-based leaders or local council people or others who have a high standing in the community. Your CHW can help connect your outreach project to these leaders and boost the efforts.
The Community Tool Box has these ideas for where to find local partners:
- Community leaders
- Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other places of worship
- Hospitals (including emergency rooms)
- Health centers (including office staff such as medical secretaries)
- Doctors’ office (including office staff and billing managers)
- Billing agencies that serve medical providers
- Health-related clinics (such as immunization, blood pressure, smoking cessation)
- Visiting Nurse Associations
- Schools (nurses, counselors, health coordinators). This might require the initial support of the superintendent, principal, or PTA
- Childcare centers and home daycare (including “unofficial care providers”)
- Housing authorities
- Courts, police and public safety departments
- Local businesses and employers
- Local agencies or local offices of state or national associations that provide services to your population
- Programs for those in need (shelters, job training, literacy programs)
- Local media (print, radio, TV, billboard)
- “Satisfied customers” of your services. Word of mouth is the best source of referrals
On the other hand, you can also introduce your community health workers to any partners you know but who they may not. This will let your CHWs expand their network and build relationships with key figures in the community, which can be invaluable for successful outreach. Remember, the more you can integrate your outreach efforts with the existing fabric of the community, the more likely you are to accomplish your public health goals.
Soon, you’ll all be working as a team with a bigger impact across the board.
Empowering Your Team of CHWs for Outreach Strategy
When you have laid all of your groundwork, then you can start launching your plan into action. Make sure that your team is in the best possible position to deliver outreach services.
Make sure your CHWs have comprehensive training. They should have the knowledge, skills, and resources necessary to carry out their outreach duties effectively. Also, training should cover your program’s objectives, communication strategies, cultural competency, and data collection methods. Check CHWTraining’s learning paths if you want ideas for training.
One recent study shows some examples of successful outreach initiatives that included CHWs. These show how CHWs can excel in terms of access, trust, and cultural relevance.
- CHWs based at a Community-Based Organization (CBO) facilitated cardiovascular disease screenings. They brought nurses to health education classes, provided transportation to the clinic, and conducted follow-up with participants through phone calls and home visits. Balcazar et al. (2005).
- CHWs based at a YWCA, employed by a clinic, and partnered with the local Parks and Recreation Department promoted physical activity, dietary behavior change, and heart-healthy education. CHWs followed up with participants via home visits and email to encourage involvement in the intervention. de Heer et al. (2015).
- Health Navigators worked across clinics to set up appointments for patients, provided follow-up, and connected patients to the Department of Child and Family services as required. They developed relationships with the Department of Child and Family services staff, facilitating eligibility issue resolution. Lemak et al. (2004).
Once you identify a need for help in your community, it can be tempting to just jump in. But if you recruit a CHW or two, you’ll be sure to reach your target audience much more accurately. From the very beginning you’ll save time, money and resources.
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