Author: Linnet Overton, LMSW, TALS Outreach and Development Director
As As you can imagine, as the TALS Outreach and Development Director, I’m always thinking about…wait for it…outreach and development opportunities. (I know you’re shocked .) This means that during lunch, as I calmly savored my sandwich (read as *wolfed down while checking the news*), I couldn’t help, but see this article about an information blanket and think, ‘Wow, this is amazing! So, what is the TALS/civil legal services ‘information blanket?’ By that I mean, what is the outreach tool that can communicate about our services at a glance to both civil legal services users and funders? Well isn’t that the million dollar question?!
Keeping up with the Jones’?
In today’s fast paced, media filled world, the competition for people’s attention is fierce. There are millions of new ideas shared every day. People are bombarded with information from their phones, computers, televisions, radios, billboards, friends, and even bathroom stalls. The question we must all ask ourselves is this. How can nonprofits and civil legal services stand out from the pack?
There are many aspects to ensuring you are noticed and continue to have an impact on your community long-term. Some of the most important features of a nonprofit’s ability to do this include:
- Having meaningful services,
- Tracking measurable results, and
- Sharing your services availability and results with your community.
Here at TALS we use or bi-weekly staff meetings as time to evaluate our success at achieving these three points. We do this by:
- Analyzing feedback and results for ongoing projects,
- Brainstorming new projects and development opportunities that build on feedback, and
- Identifying new ways to integrate outreach, promotions, marketing and development into all projects.
Just like everyone though, TALS is always trying to grow and improve. Though we try to integrate outreach (ie. sharing our services availability and results with our community) into all our work, it’s sometimes all too easy to get bogged down running a program and overlook the big picture. We all know the value of civil legal services and report the our number of clients served etc. to all our funding sources, but do we always stay on top of our outreach in the best, most innovative, and effective way possible? The short answer is no. But to give a long answer we need to ask, why not?
Examining past analysis of legal needs in Tennessee, one could extrapolate that there is room to grown in messaging. Studies show, as many as 68% of Tennesseans living in poverty has a civil legal need each year. However, when surveyed, only 21% of people in need knew of a free civil legal service they could turn to. This means that the messages about civil legal services’ availability aren’t reaching communities in need.
Additionally, more than 75% of people who do have access to civil legal services, continue to have unmet legal needs. Legal aid programs are able to serve as few as 25% of the people who come through their doors and qualify for their services. Nevertheless, civil legal services took a huge funding hit on the Federal level this year and competition for state and local grants is more aggressive than ever. This means that we’re not effectively communicating with all our funding sources.
It’s not my job
OK, at this point you may be thinking, “Look, I do my job. If my organization is struggling with sharing about our services and results it’s not my fault. It’s the fault of our outreach and development staff!” This is an understandable perspective, but one that misses the symbiotic relationship necessary between services providers, management, and support staff in an organization.
To provide legal interventions for low-income vulnerable Tennesseans, we need attorneys, paralegals and educational staff. To pay those individuals, we must have funding. To have funding, communication, outreach, and development staff must share successes and results. To have success stories, we must have clients. To have clients, we must have people aware of our services. And to serve clients….you know where I’m going with this…we need each other! ‘It’s not my job’ is just not applicable. We all have a vested interest and a role to play in sharing our organization’s message.
What should I do?
Many people in an organization don’t even know how they can contribute to their organization’s outreach activities. They are too busy just doing their day to day work to identify what, let’s just be honest here, may simply feel like another thing placed on an already FULL plate. Here are three simple ideas for supporting your organization’s efforts to share successes and results:
1) Share your clients’ stories:
If you have a great experience with a client be sure you have a waver signed to share their story (even if it’s anonymously) and take ten minutes to write out the highlights or send documentation of the positive experience to your outreach and or development staff. This can in turn be used to share in annual reports, grants, and through social media.
2) Share your organizations’ results:
Share cumulative results and stories with statewide organizations. Organizations such as TALS that support the work of multiple organizations have several unique opportunities to use cumulative information to bring cumulative results. For example, statewide organizations can apply for larger out-of-state funding that can benefit multiple programs or can use funding to provide promotions that are statewide.
3) Share your experience:
Do you tell your friends, family, community groups, churches…everyone about the work you do? You should! The more you talk about what you do, the more people will ask how they can be a part of it too. Don’t know what they can do? Get them in touch with your outreach and development director!
So what can outreach and development directors do with this information? This is where developing our individual ‘information blanket’ must come into play. What singular tool communicates our services’ availability and results to our community at a glance?
At this moment, I’m not sure we have one. TALS and our programs (check out or blogroll for links) all have great websites that are continually being updated and revamped, but these are individual messages. We all have annual reports and social media sites that keep advocates up to date and also tell clients’ powerful stories, but these are all in different locations. What I would like is a more universal messaging for our whole state that tells a singular ‘TN civil legal services’ message’ in a brief and compelling way.
What are some ideas? That’s what Part 2 is for. See you there!
- Linnet Overton
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