Effective outreach means turning outreach ‘inside out’

Resource | avril 25, 2018

How do you let people know about the activities you have going on in your park or green space? Marketers may call the process “outreach,” but our park expert Nawal Ateeq calls it ‘creating insiders.’ Find out how she’s turning the very idea of “outreach” inside-out.

Outreach is a term that can be deceiving. It presumes an “insider” group that’s trying to reach people who are “outsiders.” A better approach, and one championed by Nawal Ateeq, Chair of Flemingdon Community Support Services, is to consider everyone in your community (and beyond) to be “insiders”–they just may not know it yet.

Nawal’s group is interwoven into the web of neighbourhood connections that help serve the needs of the many Toronto newcomer communities that call Flemingdon Park their home. Flemingdon is a highly diverse neighbourhood in Toronto’s North York populated by a number of tower communities. Here’s how Nawal turns the concept of outreach inside out and gets people to share green space in Flemingdon Park.


  1. Reframe the inside-outside binary

    Nawal believes that when you live in a neighbourhood, everyone is an insider. That means that your group’s goal is not to get more people to attend your park events, but rather to get more people to see themselves as part of your group’s organizing team. In short, no one will be more enthusiastic about posting flyers than someone who is deeply invested in the purpose underpinning the event.

    Creating shared purpose begins when you express “the why” behind an event or activity. Ask yourself: “Why are we doing this event? Why is this event important to me and to my community?” Nawal emphasizes:

    “There’s a reason we do particular events, like park cleanups. We do cleanups because we live in a high-density neighbourhood with lots of high rise towers. Cleaning up is not one person’s job. We’re interconnected, so we all need to demonstrate this, together.”

    This specific context makes the event resonate within her community: “I think it’s contagious. We’re like a family. We’re all so invested. The event becomes everyone’s baby.”


  2. Get the lay of the land

    In any community, there are many formal and informal ties that bind people to each other and to their neighbours. As a park group, your first job is to understand all of the key people and organizations that are part of this complex web of relationships, and determine what specific needs your group addresses. This echoes what we heard from Ana from Friends of Parkview Forest in another post on outreach.  It’s essential to regularly go to meetings, support your partners and build relationships in the community.

    Nawal puts it quite simply:

    “You cannot expect people to trust you without getting to know you.”

    This is a rule we know from our social lives, but we often forget in our volunteer or work endeavours. As a trusted member of a community, you can help people access what they need and others will do the same. This is a virtuous circle that will help new people find and connect to your park group.

    Nawal points out:

    "You need to have a collaborative mindset. We always work in collaboration. You need help from so many to make your park group a success. Other groups have needs too. You can rely on partners when you become a good partner.”


  3. Create value

    Nawal’s advice is to “make it valuable to be part of the team.”

    For each group Nawal reaches out to, she considers what they need and want out of that interaction. As we point out in our Sparking Change Report, in underserved communities, people are often asked to volunteer their time. Being able to offer a small honorarium, a hot meal, tokens or childcare can help acknowledge and value people’s time.

    There are many other ways to create value for people to participate. Nawal knows that many youth and newcomers in her community want their volunteer efforts to provide them with work experience that is required for employment opportunities. She's eager to help volunteers build their resumes, their networks, connect them to community programs, and is always happy to provide a reference for employment opportunities. When working with volunteers, Nawal establishes a volunteer plan that lays out clear expectations and accountability so they know what success looks like and what they can hope to achieve.

    Nawal creates a unique value proposition for each volunteer she works with. In the case of one of her older volunteers, Nawal realized that this volunteer felt that his well-honed skills are no longer of use to others and that he genuinely wanted to feel that he had something meaningful to contribute.

    “Everyone's motivations are different. It's critical to recognize and embrace these differences.”

    Take the time to consider what value you can offer to the various people you want to engage with. It need not be a guessing game. You can simply ask people what they want to get out of the volunteer experience:

    “People have different interests, but generally, everyone tells you what they want out of an experience.”


  4. Actively seek new connections

    Flemingdon Community Support Services seeks out new communities to engage with. One example Nawal shares is her budding relationship with the Leaside neighbourhood, a more affluent neighbourhood that’s immediately adjacent to Flemingdon. Nawal found that food and cultural events showcasing the rich cultural heritage of the newcomers at the local library helped Leaside residents engage with Flemingdon and become more actively involved in the park.  Nawal emphasises:

    “We want to have everyone represented. As a group, the more different kinds of people we can engage, the richer we are.”


  5. Steward relationships

    Nawal has an outreach database which she is diligent about maintaining. Her well-used and detailed list of volunteers and community members is an important reminder that park engagement isn’t a one-time activity. Rather, Nawal approaches outreach as  an ongoing, sustained process that builds over time.

    For example, a student who may join Flemingdon Community Support Services to collect high school volunteer credits may eventually be looking to build her network or to open up new avenues to employment. Nawal is committed to remaining relevant to the people she engages with. The community park group ultimately exists to be serve the community. This is an important reminder that really does flip the idea of “outreach” on its head.

    This resource was developed with support from