Applicant Outreach & Info Sessions
Outreach strategies to help communicate the program goals and share application materials.
After announcing a funding program, applicant outreach is used to help people learn about the opportunity, often trying to reach new, more inclusive audiences. When planning and implementing outreach, it is important to not only understand the best platforms to communicate information with the target audience but to also have ambassadors within the community helping to spread the word if the funder does not have an existing relationship with the community being served.
One successful approach for applicant outreach is to share high level information broadly throughout the community that grabs people’s attention and tells them where they can learn more. This is often accomplished by getting on the agenda for already existing community meetings, posting flyers or rack cards in areas that get a lot of foot-traffic, and putting ads in local newspapers or on the local radio stations. This initial step helps to identify people that are interested in learning more about the opportunity and will benefit from receiving more in depth information through a program webpage, email follow-up, or an outreach event.
Hosting an information session at a local community meeting place or the funder’s office is an additional way for people to learn about the opportunity and is an easy place to direct people toward when they inquire about the funding opportunity. Information sessions help to bring together prospective applicants so that the program manager can walk them through the prospectus and application materials as a group instead of individually. It also provides a time for general questions about the program. Once they have a good understanding about funding opportunity and have an idea for their proposal, individualized support tends to be more beneficial. This individualized support will be discussed further in the next section, Prospect Management & Draft Review.
- Where are some places that the target audience meets or frequents on a regular basis?
- What are the best communication tools to reach the target audience?
- Do I already have a relationship with the target audience or do I need partners to serve as ambassadors for the program during the outreach phase?
Info Session Checklist
Hosting an information session requires time for planning, promotion, preparation, and follow-up in addition to the hour or so that it takes to actually have the event. On average, the following steps take approximately 5-10 hours over the course of 4 weeks.
However, if you are running multiple information sessions for the same program, the subsequent events will take significantly less time to prepare for, especially if you do the coordination of all of the information sessions prior to the first event.
Always try to meet your community members where they are. This might mean getting on the agenda at an existing community meeting or using a standing meeting time to host an information session. You could also consider hosting a dedicated information session at your organization’s office or another public location.
Considering equity choice points based on the target audience when planning outreach events and activities can help bring more depth to the applicant pool and make the funding opportunity feel more obtainable to a broader group of people. While deciding when and where to have your meeting, make sure to consider time of day, location, and transportation:
Time of day: What type of refreshments are most appropriate? Is the opportunity directed toward applicants that would be applying on behalf of their organization or on behalf of themselves, based on their personal interests? Does childcare need to be provided?
Location: Is there a fee to use the meeting space? Does the venue have food/beverages available for purchase? Is the venue a place that is often frequented by the community the program serves? Is the building accessible for people with disabilities (i.e., ADA Compliant)? Is there a private area for breastfeeding mothers?
Transportation: Can people get there easily using public transportation? Is there ample parking nearby? Is it walking distance for the community being served by the program?
In general, it is highly recommended that information sessions are held in public places, which feel more welcoming to community members. Venues such as churches, community centers, and libraries work well and are often free to use.
Once you have decided on a time, date, and venue for your information session, plan to use tools like paper flyers, social media, and email messages to get the word out approximately 2-3 weeks before the event.
Additionally, consider some of the following recruitment best practices from smartmeetings.com:
Make it easy. If someone goes to your website to sign up for an event, create a dedicated landing page for it. You don’t want them hunting all over the place for the link.
Engage ambassadors. Ask your ambassadors (your speakers, sponsors, and attendees) to share content via word of mouth or through social media.
Employ all types of outreach. While digital channels are very popular and efficient, they have become oversaturated. Surprisingly, old-fashioned letters, printed on nice paper with a handwritten signature, can be an effective way to market your event because they attract attention.
Once the promotional materials are circulating, it is time to prepare for the upcoming event. This often includes, but is not limited to, creating a presentation or script, developing a sign in sheet to collect key information from prospects, and coordinating refreshments based on the time of day and location of the event.
The presentation should include highlights of the program prospectus, such as the context and background for the program, overview of the funding opportunity, eligibility criteria, timeline, examples or characteristics of strong proposals, and how to apply. The slides should be fairly light on text, using bulleted lists with key information that the presenter then discusses in detail.
It is recommended that the presentation only last around 30 minutes in order to take into account any introductions at the beginning and questions at the end. It is also beneficial to develop the slides in a way that is easily shareable, as both attendees and people who can’t make the information session often request that they are shared.
Sign In Sheet
At a minimum, the sign in sheet should be used to collect all attendees names, email addresses, and organizational affiliations. It is often not necessary to collect phone numbers or mailing addresses at this phase of the program. If you would like to get an idea of where attendees are coming from, asking for their neighborhood or zip code is usually sufficient.
It is a nice gesture to buy light refreshments for information sessions. If the event is taking place at a venue that serves food and/or beverages, it is recommended that the refreshments are purchased from there to show your support for the local business. If it is a place that does not serve food and drinks, such as a local community center or library, it is suggested that you bring your own, unless they are not permitted at the venue.
In general, bagels and coffee are great for morning meetings, sandwich platters work well for lunch or after work meetings, and bags of chips or cookie trays with bottles of water are sufficient most other times of the day.
Information sessions typically only require around 20 minutes of setup. However, it is suggested to begin setting up approximately an hour before the information session is scheduled to start so that everything is ready to go if attendees arrive early or if there are any tech/logistical issues that need to be sorted out.
The program manager or another person that can speak fluently about the funding opportunity is typically the person that leads the information session. This allows for questions to be answered on the spot instead of needing to get back to people with answers after the meeting. It is also useful to have a supporting team member who will help to greet attendees, ensuring that they sign in and helping to direct late-comers.
Having printed application materials and contact information for the program manager readily available for attendees also creates an actionable next step for prospective applicants.
It is important to remember that the people in attendance will likely come from a variety of backgrounds and will have varying levels of knowledge about the funder and the funding program. If there is time at the beginning of the meeting, go around the room to do a quick round of introductions. This will help the meeting facilitator provide examples and a level of detail that is most relevant to the people in the room.
If there are more than 10 attendees, it is in the best interest of time to have people briefly introduce themselves as they ask questions in the final portion of the event instead of going around to everyone individually at the beginning.
In addition to making information at the event easily actionable, it is also helpful to send a follow-up email directly after the meeting with any links that were mentioned during the information session and electronic versions of the program materials.
It is also important to add attendees to a prospect list to help keep track of who is interested in the opportunity along with any helpful notes from conversations you had with them during or after the outreach event.
Methods We Love
Working with local partners. Community institutions are vital when trying to reach people who may not already be in the grantmaker’s network. Churches, libraries, community groups, and other local organizations that engage residents on a daily basis help new people learn about the opportunity but also make it seem more approachable. By partnering with local organizations and businesses, residents are able to easily pick up and drop off materials, talk to someone they are already familiar with, and feel confident that the opportunity is meant for people like them.
Meeting residents where they are. Information sessions at local community meeting places and businesses are often utilized to help people learn about the opportunity. These information sessions should take place at multiple locations and at varying times of the day in order to accommodate differing schedules of the target audience. Printed materials and contact information for the staff member(s) leading the program should also be made readily available for attendees so that there are actionable next steps when the information session is over.
Offering standing meetings. For many years, Sprout hosted monthly funding workshops that gave attendees an overview of the organization, the current funding opportunities, and tips for applying. This worked well when there were ongoing funding programs that utilized the same application but became an inefficient use of people’s time when the applications and programs were no longer closely aligned. We found that it is a better use of everyone’s time to dive into the details of a specific program with the people eligible and seeking that support rather than give an overview of several programs that do not apply to everyone. This allows for more nuanced examples to be used to better illustrate what a competitive proposal looks like and encourages more targeted questions in a group setting as opposed to discussing these things individually later down the line.
Hosting an applicant retreat. Writing a grant would be much more efficient if all of the key people were in the same room, dedicating 1-2 days solely to brainstorming and developing the proposal. While this isn’t realistic for most programs, it may be a great approach if you have a very targeted audience or if there are very specific criteria that need to be met that require a high level of applicant support.
Quality over quantity. It is important to be cognizant of the program manager’s time while doing outreach. While offering opportunities to learn about the funding program at a variety of times and places helps to accommodate the busy schedules of prospective applicants it can also waste a lot of time if only 1-2 people (or no people) are showing up. For that reason, it is important to find a balance and create a groundswell around the outreach opportunities that are available without overextending the program manager.
Templates & Downloads
- Sign In Sheet
- Presentation Slide Deck
- Info Session Follow-up Message
- Neighbor-to-Neighbor Information Session Flyer