What is Community Education and Outreach?
Community Education and Outreach (E&O) refers to the provision of resources and services of a specific expertise to people who may otherwise lack access to them. Community E&O aims to raise awareness around a particular issue and equip community members with the knowledge and skills to make well informed decisions, make improvements and build community resilience.
While education and outreach are often discussed as a joint term, “Education” refers to the education and training around a particular skill, issue, etc., while “Outreach” refers to the direct engagement and activities to get community members excited and involved. To put it simply, Community E&O is targeted communication with a group of people aimed at meeting a specific goal.
Non-profits, institutions and businesses alike can participate in Community Education and Outreach and these efforts can take several different forms such as:
- Public talks and newsletters
- Training sessions
- Peer support groups
- School or community center presentations
- Community fundraisers
- And more
Why is Community Education and Outreach Important for Business?
Businesses, like people, are community members too, and the efforts they make to lift up their neighbors reciprocates benefits back to them. Businesses who participate in Community Education and Outreach efforts can increase brand awareness and enhance their reputation as a purpose-driven and trustworthy company.
Getting involved in your community also grants you the opportunity to promote your products/services and expertise, and network with other organizations. Directly connecting with community members and learning about pressing issues within the community provides invaluable insight that may inspire new goals and influence your company mission.
Further, Community E&O gives your employees the chance to give back, often creating a sense of pride and purpose. In fact, employees are five times more engaged at their jobs when their employers offer community outreach opportunities.
How Does Community Education and Outreach Relate to Sustainability?
It’s important to keep in mind that being a sustainable business means not only doing what’s right for the planet, it also includes social responsibility and lifting up disadvantaged groups.
Access to health services and education opportunities, jobs and employment benefits, affordable and nutritious food – These are just a few of the most common issues that Community Education and Outreach target. Each of these play a powerful role in building community resilience, the capacity to meet current and future community needs amidst changes brought by climate change, population growth, and an evolving economic and political landscape.
Be Aware of These Common Challenges
If you’re a purpose-driven company who’s eager to give back to the community, then you should first be aware of the common challenges of creating an outreach program and making a lasting impact.
Unsure About How You Can Help
Figuring out how your business can give back in a meaningful way requires understanding the needs and issues facing the community. This means you will need to spend some time getting to know your neighbors. Connect with local organizations and key decision makers, initiate meaningful conversations and ask them in what ways you could show support.
Lack of Leadership
Community Education and Outreach is not some side project or trivial task. A successful outreach program needs dedicated leadership, ideally from a small team (this could be your Green Team) of passionate go-getters. But it may be difficult to find any employees available or confident to take on this responsibility. Some companies are incentivizing corporate volunteerism by offering employees volunteer time off (VTO). You can learn how to write a volunteer time off (VTO) policy here.
Lack of Engagement
Besides availability, some employees may simply not be interested in volunteering if they feel it impedes their other work or if it feels more like a pesky to-do rather than a passion project. Take this opportunity to seek input from your team and figure out what matters to them. You can schedule a group discussion or send out an anonymous poll to collect feedback. Employees who feel they have a say in the decisions that affect them are more likely to participate and put in genuine effort.
Lack of Resources
Maybe you have the ultimate dream team to launch an outreach program but you lack the material or financial resources. It’s important to remember that even small actions matter. Even if you can’t sponsor a large fundraising event, you can partner with a school to build a garden or invest in their next science fair. You can also partner with other local businesses and combine forces. Perhaps you can offer space to host events in exchange for supplies and other resources..
Setting Unrealistic Goals
It’s exciting to get involved with the community and feel like you’re making a difference. But be careful not to set the bar too high right away. When it comes to setting outreach goals, you must know exactly how much support you can actually guarantee – time, funds, volunteers, etc. Work closely with community partners to set realistic goals and where your investment will make the greatest impact.
Community Education and Outreach programs, like any corporate initiative, can lose their shine and momentum if not given regular evaluation. To keep your team from losing interest and to maintain an outreach program that is always fresh and inviting, it’s critical to schedule monthly or quarterly team meetings to discuss current outreach progress and future plans, designated roles and responsibilities, budget, partnerships and new opportunities, etc. Save time for questions and concerns, and ask your outreach team if they have the adequate resources and support they need.
Developing a Community Education and Outreach Plan
Giving back to the community can be as easy as making an annual donation or participating in a one-time cleanup event. However, the most influential companies know that lasting impacts come from long-term commitment and meaningful experiences.
To launch a successful outreach program, you will need to create a plan. Here are some steps your Community Education and Outreach Plan should include:
- Assess Community Needs – Connect with local organizations and key community leaders – local advocates, community health workers, hospital/school administrators, neighborhood council members, etc. – to gather information around a particular issue. Maybe you’re a tech company curious about youth education and access to technology. You can reach out to the local schools in your area to find out if they’re in need of supplies and tech support. During this community needs assessment, you can begin to form community partnerships which will be vital to the success of your outreach program.
- Choose a Target Issue – Once you have a better idea of the issues facing your community, then you can assess what resources you have available to make the greatest impact. With feedback from your team, choose a community need that you feel confident you can provide for. The target issue doesn’t necessarily have to relate to your industry but having expertise in a specific area is advantageous.
- Set a Goal – Set realistic, clearly defined, measurable goals based on the available resources you have. As the saying goes, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” and having data-backed results is necessary to understand if your program is heading in the right direction.
- Develop a Strategy – Work closely with your community partners to determine how best your team and resources can be used to achieve the target goal. Delegate roles and responsibilities, decide best methods for collecting data, roll out any resources – software, training, etc. – that will help your team get closer to the goal. Successful outreach requires well thought out strategizing.
- Engage with Community Partners – Actively communicate with your community partners and continually invite them to ask questions and give feedback. More than likely, you’ll be collaborating with people who work directly with disadvantaged groups and who have a deep understanding of community needs. Heed their knowledge and suggestions. It’s important for business leaders to be attentive listeners and learners, and make room for their neighbors to be leaders too.
- Make a Public Announcement – Inform all of your stakeholders about your newly launched Community Education and Outreach program through newsletters, a press release, your website and social media channels. If applicable, let them know how they can support the cause!
- Measure Impact – Designing your outreach program with measurable parameters is key to measuring the program’s impact because it shows where you are in reaching your target and where improvements could be made. Data collection helps steer your program in the right direction and verifies whether or not your efforts are making an impact.
- Revise and Improve – Using collected data and feedback from your team and community partners, you can revise and improve your outreach program. Don’t get discouraged if you’re not making the strides that you originally anticipated. Any new corporate program reveals unforeseen obstacles and raises new questions. It’s also important to keep in mind that community wellbeing involves a complex combination of factors – economic, social, political, environmental, etc. – that are constantly shifting and evolving. But the more you listen to and engage with your community, the more opportunities you will find to give back.
Helpful Resources to Know
Whether your business is new to Community Education and Outreach or you’re well established within the community, here are some helpful resources to bookmark in your browser.
- Building Movement Project provides tools and training specifically for nonprofits but it can still be valuable to businesses seeking ideas on how to create a larger impact. You can find a diversity of resources (i.e. community engagement tools, tips for crafting powerful questions, case studies and much more) – on their search portal Tools to Engage.
- Fund for Shared Insight is a funder collaborative that pools financial and other resources to provide grants, coaching and community-building through collaborative philanthropy.
- There are some apps that make giving easy such as Charity Miles which tracks your exercise miles (walking, running or biking) and makes a donation per mile to a charity of your choice, and VolunteerMatch, an app that matches you with volunteer opportunities in your area based on your location, interests and availability.
- Hivebrite allows you to create a highly customizable online community to best suit your group’s objectives and needs. Hivebrite makes it easy to engage with group members, crowdsource and share opportunities, and achieve goals faster.
Want to learn more ways you can be a socially conscious and impactful business? You can read these articles and more on our blog!