Barber shop image as a representation of where a message can be placed

Take a little off the top and please tell me about climate change.

There have always been challenges in nonprofits reaching their communities to deliver critical messages. During the COVID pandemic, I have been reminded of some of the most insightful techniques that have been used to reach some of our “hardest to reach” communities. I think of some of the Public Health campaigns when we have been faced with our biggest challenges, these approaches are models that every nonprofit can follow.

What challenges have you faced in reaching your community?

Perhaps starting with identifying WHERE your community meets is important. In the 80’s creative messages were used in bars and restaurants to educate about HIV. Cocktail napkins, coasters, and matchboxes were placarded with the transmission information and the Do’s and Do Not’s of social settings. This was because we realized that those at risk of HIV gathered in these areas

 In the mid-2000s, I ran a Colorectal Cancer screening project in Connecticut where we partnered with barbershops, salons, tattoo parlors, worship centers, and community centers to provide messages on free colonoscopies to over 600 uninsured men. We were reaching an audience of uninsured and underinsured residences, who we found to frequent these establishments.  These locations, therefore, have a built-in captive audience and serve as a great way to elicit a conversation. Decals on mirrors said, “Ask Me about your Health” as a way to start the conversation. Additionally, educating the employees at these shops became a great community engagement success.

Disney has this down. We know that Disney Parks are experts at educating their guests while they are waiting in line. Using the Disney queue techniques to educate your community on your nonprofit’s mission while they are waiting in line or sitting in a waiting room would be a great application of what Disney does. How many times have you viewed a People magazine cover in the grocery line or a 10-year-old National Geographic cover in the waiting room of a dentist’s office? These captive audiences, if they are YOUR audience, are ripe for your message.

In reaching our community, we first need to understand who our community is, where they are, and where their attention is most likely to be ‘captured’. It is no longer ok to wait for donors, clients, or volunteers to come to you, you must venture out and deliver your mission, message, and expand your nonprofits’ reach. A strategy for this process will be essential to your success.

So, next time you are in a line think about what your organization could have done to educate, inspire, and move to action those around you. 


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