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Identify the Message and Messengers

When reaching out to community members, it is important to have messages that resonate with your specific audiences and that come from trusted sources.

It can be helpful to consider both community and individual motivations when developing your outreach strategy. Studies have shown that lower-income residents are likely to be responsive to both community-based (e.g., improving air quality or supporting local jobs) and individual (e.g., saving money) messaging. It can be helpful to use an online calculator, such as RMI’s RESET, for assistance in calculating individual economic and environmental benefits. Below are some primary themes to consider emphasizing in messaging.

  • Saving money with discounted solar pricing: Given that the perception of a good deal has proven a strong motivator in campaigns, consider starting with the financial benefit of going solar, including the time-limited bulk-purchase discount, lower-income incentives, and immediate and lifetime energy cost savings. For example: “This campaign will result in a 10%–20% discount on your solar system’s price, depending on how many residents sign up by the deadline. Income-qualified residents may receive a free installation. Residents are estimated to save up to $100 per year and $5,000 over 25 years.”
  • Accessing affordable solar financing: Consider noting how the campaign’s affordable and accessible financing options can reduce up-front cost barriers. For example: “You could save money on day one with no-money-down financing through our partnership with ABC Credit Union, which offers monthly solar loans payments to credit-challenged borrowers that are less than the system’s energy cost savings.”
  • Reduce environmental and health impacts: Consider emphasizing the direct and tangible climate and air quality benefits of installing residential solar. For example: “Over 25 years, a typical rooftop solar system reduces air pollution as much as planting 2,500 trees or driving 375,000 fewer miles.”
  • Simplifying the process of “going solar”: Consider indicating how a campaign streamlines the solar process. For example: “This campaign makes it easier for you to go solar by walking you through the process and providing a vetted, community-selected solar installer.”
  • Supporting the local workforce: Consider highlighting how a campaign can help jump-start the local solar industry. For example: “Your participation in this campaign supports local solar jobs and workforce development opportunities.”

Along with developing messaging, it is also important to identify and build a coalition of diverse and trusted community members to promote the campaign. The following are important types of messengers:

  • City officials: Having one or more elected officials, such as a mayor or city council member, promote the campaign can lend legitimacy to and expand its reach. Officials can demonstrate support through attending an in-person or virtual event, sending out a signed mailer or email, issuing a press release, or posting on social media. Local government support is key for generating press coverage and can be the difference between the campaign taking off or struggling to generate interest and momentum.
  • Local CBOs: Partnering with local community organizations that understand the community dynamics can help campaigns more effectively reach marginalized residents through trusted channels. Often the target of scams and predatory lending, low-income communities and communities of color may be more skeptical of solar product offerings that sound too good to be true.
  • Solar ambassadors: Recruiting volunteers who have installed solar, whether previously or as an early campaign participant, to act as “solar ambassadors” to share their positive firsthand experiences can help humanize and personalize the process. When communicating with communities of color and lower-income residents, it is especially important that these ambassadors are representative of their community.

Depending on the diversity of the local community, the core team may need to provide full-service translation throughout the campaign. This includes translating all outreach materials and having speakers fluent in the languages of any non-English-speaking target audiences to answer written and verbal questions at campaign events. For example, Spark Northwest has worked with ECOSS for translation services for its campaigns.

Suggested Next Steps: Develop the themes for outreach strategy messaging and identify messengers. Consider using the “Message” and “’Messengers” tabs in RMI’s forthcoming Inclusive Solarize Campaign Outreach Strategy Playbook for assistance.

Case Study

The 2022 Solarize Santa Fe campaign focused its initial outreach on Santa Fe Public Schools staff, whose workforce demographics reflected those of the city overall.

While the campaign was open to any homeowner within the City of Santa Fe, identifying a specific audience helped the campaign emphasize specific messages. Key themes included potential cost savings, climate benefits to protect future generations, and accessible solar financing through a partnership with the Northern New Mexico School Employees Federal Credit Union. The campaign’s outreach strategy contributed to nearly 70% of installations occurring in LMI census tracts.