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How to Develop a Community Outreach & Referral Program

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Community outreach is a way for public spirited institutions and other entities to connect their ideas and services with specific groups, other public spirited organizations and the public at large. The institutions that most often reach out are churches, civic groups and nonprofit organizations. Outreach, depending on the institution reaching out, can be equal parts education, public relations and diplomacy, but there is no one way to reach out. A common goal of many outreach programs is to empower people by referring them to resources they might not otherwise use. It's also common for several outreach programs to link their overlapping goals.

Define the community to whom you are reaching out and begin two-way communication with members of that group. One of the most important goals in all outreach is to understand the real, not hypothetical, needs of your target community.

Research the resources that are already available to your target community, develop relationships with representatives of those resources and refer people to those resources. For example, if your target community is visually impaired, develop and foster working relationships with organizations like the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

Develop goals, activities and a schedule. Ensure that your activities -- such as workshops and open houses -- are accessible to your target community as well as the larger public. Implement an “open admissions” policy so that anyone, not just your target community, can learn about and use your resources.

Get media coverage for your organization and its work. Compile a list of local newspapers and television and radio stations. Contact those news outlets at least once a month and ask your local television stations if they will help you produce and run a public service announcement about your organization and its work.

Critique your accomplishments regularly. It is easier to plan goals than it is to accomplish them. If you are not meeting your goals, ask your staff, your target community and representatives of other outreach programs what you can do better.


Don Davis has been a professional writer since 1977. He has had numerous writing jobs, including writing news and features for the "Metrowest Daily News" and "Los Angeles Herald-Examiner." Davis has a Bachelor of Arts in English and history from Indiana State University.