Recruit Participants and Form Diverse Groups
The hallmark of a strong dialogue-to-change program is diversity. The goal is to get as many different kinds of people involved as possible.
- When people from different backgrounds and walks of life talk about possible solutions to common problems, they form new relationships and networks, and come up with innovative ideas.
- A program that involves a broad cross section of the community is more likely to benefit the community as a whole.
- Having a diverse mix of participants helps make for lively and rewarding dialogue.
The most important factor in recruiting a broad diversity of participants is a strong, diverse coalition. Each coalition member reaches a different group of people. Every time a new organization joins the coalition, the program’s capacity for recruitment gets stronger.
Decide how many and what kinds of people you are trying to reach.
Refer back to the recruitment goals generated by the whole coalition. As a recruitment committee, you will revisit some of the coalition’s earlier conversation, and make it even more specific:
- How many people do we need to involve in order to bring about the kinds of changes we are aiming for in our community?
- Who are the different kinds of people we need to recruit to make our program diverse? Brainstorm a list. (“Diversity” means different things to different people, so take the time to explore each other’s views and then decide what diversity means to the group as a whole.)
- Why would people from each of these groups (or sectors, or backgrounds) want to participate?
- What might keep people in each group from participating?
Figure out who can reach out to these diverse participants.
Consider: Are there groups or individuals on our coalition who can reach out to different kinds of people? If not, who can help bring them on board?
Plan outreach strategies.
To sell your program, use a multi-faceted approach, combining personal invitations and general publicity. Remember, people need to hear the same message at least three times before it begins to register.
- A personal invitation is the best recruiting strategy. There is no substitute! You can do this through face-to-face visits and through phone calls. The coordinator and coalition members can introduce the program to lots of people by speaking at community groups or meetings.
- Whenever possible, give people a chance to take part in a sample dialogue. Be sure to allow plenty of time for questions and answers. Explain how the program can help them make a difference on the issue, form new partnerships and relationships, and strengthen their own organization. Capture the excitement that is generated on the spot by having sign-up forms with you.
- Ask volunteers to make phone calls to follow up on letters or presentations.
Consider outreach tools.
The most effective tools deliver your message to people in ways they like to receive information. Think about the people you’re trying to reach. Do they read the newspaper, or are they more likely to read a church bulletin? Do they listen to the radio? If so, which stations? Do they read fliers on grocery store bulletin boards? Do they use e-mail, or get an employee newsletter at work?
Plan on using a variety of tools so that people will hear your message several ways – for example, through the mass media (newspapers, radio, TV), direct mail (letters, notes, brochures), and a personal contact (phone calls, presentations, meetings).
Give coalition members recruiting assignments.
Provide coalition members with the advice and tools that have been developed by the communication committee (see “Plan and Carry Out Communication” on pages 39-54). Include a few key talking points about the program that they can use wherever they go. Have them carry sign-up forms wherever they go. Remember that active recruitment is the most effective.
Ask the members of your coalition to reach out to people in their networks. In many programs, coalition members are asked to recruit a specific number of participants. Some programs recruit through the workplace. This is especially effective when CEOs and other key leaders are on board, encouraging people to participate.
Representatives from the faith community might be asked to recruit a certain number of people from their congregations. Leaders of service clubs, such as Kiwanis, Lions, or Rotary, can announce the program during their meetings and personally invite people. In all these cases, the recruiting will be easier if the recruiter is supplied with instructions, talking points, guidelines for recruiting different kinds of people, and sign-up sheets.
Work hard to recruit the unaffiliated.
One of the biggest challenges is to recruit people who don’t often get involved in community events. This will take extra work, but without it, you will be missing many important voices in your program. Here are a few suggestions:
- Go where people socialize. Just because social groups aren’t considered “political” doesn’t mean their members aren’t interested in critical issues. Think about bridge clubs, bowling leagues, sports clubs, youth groups, sewing circles, and ethnic organizations. Don’t overlook local mom-and- pop establishments and businesses where people are likely to socialize, such as barbershops or hair salons.
- Go where people work. In some communities, businesses have given time off to employees who wanted to take part in the program.
Work out a plan to ensure diversity.
The recruiting committee is also responsible for making sure that each dialogue has a diverse mix of participants. You should use more than one of these methods:
- Design your sign-up sheet to collect basic information – such as name, age, occupation, gender, ethnic/racial group – and then use that data to help arrange diverse groups. Make sure you ask for preferred times and days.
- Bring people together in a large group. Post different days and times around the room, and ask people to select a time that fits their schedule. Also, ask them to join groups with people they don’t know, and who don’t look like them. After the groups are formed, check to see how diverse they are, and adjust if necessary.
- Pair up dissimilar organizations. Form groups that are half from one organization, half from the other.
- In a large group, assign numbers as people come in, and then form groups according to numbers. This way you will separate people who have come in together.
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Note: These pages are adapted from Organizing Community-Wide Dialogue for Action and Change. You may download this guide in PDF format at no charge, or order printed copies for a nominal fee.