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Plan the Outreach Strategy

Once a team has aligned on messaging and key messengers, the next step is developing an outreach strategy by identifying specific tactics, a time line and budget, and responsible team members for each task.

When determining the preferred outreach tactics, consider the characteristics of communications channels that are best suited for reaching your audiences (e.g., are they more likely to be users of traditional media or social media, or more likely to attend certain types of events over others, such as an in-person workshop versus a webinar).

Many Solarize campaigns have found the following outreach methods to be effective:

  • Send mailers:

    Mailers from an elected official or trusted community leaders and organizations can be an effective technique for reaching the largest number of residents in designated neighborhoods and inspiring confidence in the campaign. However, this approach can also be the most expensive and difficult to obtain approval for. Thus, cities and CBOs should work with their communications departments to determine the logistical and financial feasibility of this approach, or discuss combining related efforts (e.g. new community solar programs) to promote multiple offerings in a single mailer.

  • Use email marketing:

    There are various opportunities to leverage email outreach, including (1) emails from the campaign team to participants who sign up to keep informed about the campaign, (2) emails from partner organizations to their networks to raise awareness about the campaign or an event, and (3) emails from campaign participants to their personal and professional contacts. Although partner organization email blasts are essential during a campaign launch, direct emails from campaign participants to their networks are also very effective once a critical mass is formed. For automated emails from the campaign, a team should consider using email marketing platforms such as Mailchimp or Constant Contact and follow regulatory requirements for outreach and engagement (e.g., include opt-out options).

  • Leverage local media:

    Successful campaigns have often leveraged the wide, and usually more trusted, reach of hyper-local media (e.g., neighborhood newspapers). There are three important ways campaigns can prepare to engage with local media outlets. First, the team should determine media-worthy events or milestones (e.g., campaign kickoff, educational events, final week of the campaign, wrap up case studies, etc.). Second, the core team’s communications lead should identify relevant media outlets and reporters (e.g., local papers, community newsletters, radio stations, cable news, etc.) to contact prior to the milestones. Third, the team should draft corresponding key messaging documents, press releases, and media advisories for these events and milestones so that these are ready when needed.

  • Utilize social media:

    Social media can be a cost-effective marketing tool for Solarize campaigns. The core team should develop a social media kit for partners prior to launch that contains useful information about the campaign, suggested language to use on social media, and other materials you want them to share (such as graphics, links to flyers, etc.). Then, the team should identify and reach out to the identified campaign messengers to request that they leverage their networks and amplify the message. If the campaign has a small budget for outreach and one of the key stakeholder organizations has an established social channel, paid social media optimizing for specific geographies and personal interests can also be a great tool for amplifying your message.

  • Canvass neighborhoods:

    If the core team identified priority neighborhoods, it can be helpful to recruit volunteers to canvass those neighborhoods. This can include door-to-door canvassing with doorknob hangers, bulletin board canvassing with flyers, or hanging signs in the most visible parts of the community. The core team should work with the city’s leadership or planning/zoning department to obtain any necessary approval to canvas residential and public properties. Members of the core team who live in priority neighborhoods and public agencies can also utilize Nextdoor to jump-start these conversations.

  • Be present at community events and spaces:

    Volunteers can sign up to host information tables at community events or in high-traffic areas to discuss the campaign and hand out flyers. The core team should work with their partner frontline CBOs to identify events important to their members. Some examples include grocery stores, barber shops, houses of worship, farmers markets, coffee shops, or wherever local residents congregate. Be mindful that some events and locations may require you to coordinate with event planners, obtain permission from property owners, or apply for permits.

  • Host campaign events:

    Campaign-specific events are essential to help residents feel comfortable in joining the group, learning about solar, and signing up. Event locations, logistics, and timing should be carefully considered to allow for participation from marginalized residents. See more information in Step 6: Manage the Campaign.

  • Plan solar tours:

    Solar tours can help homeowners understand the process to go solar, build excitement, and–most importantly–offer opportunities for peer-to-peer discussions. A solar tour is where a resident with an installed solar PV system offers potential campaign participants the opportunity to visit their home, see their installed system (potentially including electric bills to show cost savings), and hear first-hand the benefits of going solar.

Case Study

To provide solar education to residents, the City of Irvine partnered with local nonprofit OC Goes Solar for its 2022 Solarize Irvine campaign. Founded by a group of sustainability-minded residents, OC Goes Solar provides educational workshops to help neighbors understand the process of adopting solar.

As a direct result of OC Goes Solar’s educational workshops, more than 400 residents signed up for the campaign.

Once outreach tactics have been determined, develop a plan that includes a time line of when each tactic will be created and deployed, who is responsible for their execution, and the associated budget. RMI’s forthcoming Inclusive Solarize Campaign Outreach Strategy Playbook includes a Gantt chart to help plan the full process.

Suggested Next Steps:

Identify the outreach tactics and the time line, budget, and team member responsible for each tactic. Consider using the “Plan” tab in RMI’s forthcoming Inclusive Solarize Campaign Outreach Strategy Playbook.