Starting a new support group or keeping an established group going can take a lot of energy and commitment.
When the doors open you will have already passed out flyers and told a few resources for members that your support group will begin on a specific date but nobody may show up. Don’t panic, there are several things you can do to get the word out about your group.
When I joined my Parents Anonymous Group, it was already well established but I had a fear of losing the group – my only source of support – and took several steps on my own to ensure the community would know it was available and eager for new members. Here are some of the outreach activities that were incorporated into my day and arranged by the Parents Anonymous office:
• While food shopping I put Parents Anonymous’ business card in between cans of juice, formula, boxed cereal, candies and children’s treats.
• Posted flyers with tear-offs in grocery stores, libraries and social service buildings.
• Put businesses cards in children’s section of book stores, discount stores and at pharmacies.
• Wrote letters to pediatricians throughout New Jersey about Parents Anonymous.
• Spoke on radio stations in the area with facilitators.
• Appeared on television for Parents Anonymous with staff.
• Manned booths at health fairs in shopping malls.
• Took part in panels about child abuse prevention.
• Interviewed for documentaries.
• Told my personal story as a mother desperately looking for help with parenting issues.
• Wrote, published and distributed a member newsletter, putting extra copies in the public library.
• Began blogging in May 2012 about my own parenting struggles and post information with each post.
• Tweet weekly online groups for new parent members.
Here are a few handy tips you can try to help grow your Parents Anonymous Group or any other support group that serves your community:
Do not become discouraged if nobody shows up in the early days. Use the opportunity to plan for the group. Design a few posters or flyers with tear-offs printed with contact information. Get to know your co-facilitator or leader better and discuss who will do which tasks.
Develop a referral source list for your area. Examples: Agencies, pediatrician’s offices, schools, mental health associations, counseling centers, child protective services, social services, religious groups. Come prepared with paper, phone books and directories. Make phone calls to inform agencies that your group is available and welcoming new members.
Distribute business cards, flyers and posters. Examples: Schools, stores, clubs, churches, supermarkets, laundromats, doctor’s offices, hospitals (departments of pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, social work offices and emergency room), libraries, social agencies, community bulletin boards and post offices.
Call your state and local information helpline/hotlines. Provide them with detailed information to inform them of your group’s existence and ask to be included in the resource directory.
Write a special interest article for your local paper(s). Your organization’s office can probably provide you with a sample article if you ask.
Write a letter to the editor explaining the group’s purpose. It is more likely to be printed if you comment in response to a current article, editorial or recent news event.
Place a free ad in your community newspaper. Most communities receive a free newspaper weekly to keep them abreast of township happenings and they will add your group to the datebook. Announcements are scheduled so remember to renew when the time expires.
Consider joining a local county commission, panel or working group. Network with others who share similar objectives and interests: Task force, board, bureau, group, forum, consultants, representatives. Share information about your support group.
Consider arranging a presentation before appropriate groups: Church, school PTA, social services, community, civic, private, business, hospital.
Contact public relations at local industries and businesses about placing notices in their periodicals, newsletters or on their bulletin board.
Find out about upcoming community health fairs. In your area and ask about displaying literature and business cards. Most health fairs are held annually so if you missed it this year, put it on your calendar for next year.
Get to know co-facilitators or group leaders in your area. Speak to other group facilitators and group leaders to brainstorm solutions. Find out how they got their group off the ground. Networking with others is an excellent source for support.
Check cable TV listings for public access channels. Many provide air-time to promote local non-profit organizations and community activity bulletin boards. Get the address and send your group information with a contact phone number.
Give your police department several business cards. Law enforcement are sometimes called to domestic disturbances when children are out of control and having a business card to give to a parent to Parents Anonymous can be helpful and appreciated.
Use social media to contact area organizations. Join in on conversation and where appropriate, post your group’s contact info and explain what your group is about.
During inclement weather place a meeting notice with your local radio station. People listening for local cancellation information may not have known about your group at all. Give a contact number or other information if possible and you’ve got free advertising!
Remember, there are seasonal fluctuations in attendance due to weather, schools being closed, and vacations. Some groups start small and stay small. Small groups are okay and can in fact be more beneficial to members.
These are by no means the only options for outreach for your Parents Anonymous or other support group. If you need assistance with outreach, contact your main office for help.
Good luck to you and your support group!
This list is a compilation by Charles Adams of the NJ Self-Help Clearinghouse and Jackie Ramirez.