By Michelle McElroy
It’s daunting when you put so much effort and resources into scheduling a course, preparing, ordering manuals and supplies, lining up the catering, only to find that 1 or 2 participants show up. Does this sound familiar? Trust us, you are not alone. We’ve been in that boat too, and although we’ve been running courses for about 10 years now, we still get nervous when scheduling the next public course, wondering whether enough people will show up. Over the years, however, we did develop a few ways to ensure we get good numbers. With the arrival of Michelle McElroy, our BC Provincial Coordinator, our course participation level has flourished owing to her enthusiasm and fresh ideas. In this blog post, Michelle shares some tips on filling up courses.
Before we jump right into it though, we’d like to explain that when we deliver RentSmart tenant courses, they are usually for the general public. We don’t offer supports directly to clients (with the exception of telephone walk-with support calls to course graduates), so we work with different other community organizations or social housing providers to make sure their clients are aware of and have access to the courses. For this reason, many of the tips we list below are based on our experience of community outreach and networking with other organizations rather than working directly with clients/participants. If you’ve got tips and suggestions on how to recruit participants directly, please contact us – we’d love to publish your ideas.
We can’t assume that clients will see our information and decide to take our course. We need the supporting organizations to know the benefit of our courses and refer their clients to a RentSmart program. Here are a few things that may help.
- Talk to organizations in person. This takes time in the beginning, but the reward will come when your classes are full. Make information packages and include anything that will tell organizations about RentSmart. Packages may include:
- A RentSmart brochure that explains the certificate course process.
- A quote sheet that had past participants’ statements in regards to their experience with the RentSmart certificate program
- A poster with the information for your next course (tempates available in the Educator Dashboard Resources)
- Small course information cards that can be given to people as reminders
- Introduction and information letters
- Your business card.
Take an afternoon and drop all of the packages off at organizations. Ask if the poster can be put up in the waiting areas and request that the information be passed on to the team.
- Lots and lots of flyers. Put course flyers/posters where you feel your participants will see them. Community boards in the library, thrift stores, soup kitchens, food banks, shelters, Work BC, outreach workers, mobile health workers.
- Follow-up information sessions with organizations. When handing out the packages, if you speak to anyone directly, follow-up by contacting them over the phone or email the following week. Ask if they had any questions or if they would like to set a meeting to learn more about the program. Many organizations would like to know more information or even need quick information sessions – 15 minutes to half an hour – for their staff or volunteers.
Contact support organizations by phone and ask if you could set up a time to talk to them about RentSmart.
Request to go to a staff meeting to talk about the program. Whenever you can, do a short demonstration of one of the activities. People who experience the program are more excited than people who just hear about the program.
- Use your contact’s contacts. Contact organizations that already have large email or support lists (e.g coalitions, associations, federations etc.) and request they share your course information with their membership. If the organization shares the information every time you run a course you will soon have organizations contacting you directly to have information sent to them.
Request to have information put into support organizations newsletters. We post our events in the Volunteer Victoria newsletter.
- Send emails with posters to any organization that may come in contact with your participant groups. Even if you only have a general email box off a website, send your course flyer and your contact information.
- Call, email, than call again. We can’t stress enough how important it is to call you participants after they’ve registered or expressed interest in attending the course. We all know how easy it is to change plans when life gets in the way. By calling them a few days before the course, you remind them that they signed up and also let them know you are waiting for them and that you care. This also helps to have an idea how many people from your sign up list will actually show up.
- Build relationships. We all know this, but often we get busy and don’t have time for this part, but it is vital. Making an effort to connect with people will improve your ability to promote RentSmart.
Send a thank you email to anyone you speak to in person or who contacts you by e-mail. Let them know how important their support of the RentSmart program is to you.
After every course in a community organization’s space, send a thank you email, or an actual thank you card.
Show appreciation to individual support workers who refer their clients to your classes.
The more direct contact you have with supports the more they will understand the program and its importance. The more they know the more likely they are to refer clients.
- If you are able to provide snacks or a meal, you will see your turn out increase. State this on your course flyers.
- Bus passes and childcare. Again, if your organization has any way to provide these things advertise your courses to raise awareness.
- Past participants as advocates. Request participants to share your contact information with people they know who could use the information or with their support people. Word of mouth is one of our best advertisers.
- Social Media. Post your events on all social media sites.
- Eventbrite and Facebook events. You may not get registrations, but it is one more arena to get the information to the public.
Most importantly, don’t give up! We work with people that face multiple barriers and have some major challenges in their life. Reaching them at the right place and right time takes patience and persistence. If they don’t show up this time, it means they aren’t ready yet, but they might show up and bring a couple of friends when you least expect them.