Reaching Your Target Audience
AI/AN: Identifying and Working with Community Leaders

Updated: 6.1.06

One helpful way to earn the trust of a community and learn the protocols within a tribe is to identify and work with a community leader who has a specific stake in children's health care coverage and is familiar with AI/AN communities. Your leader should be a well-known and respected elder, tribal chief, teacher, grandparent or other trusted member of the community. Because people will already respect your leader, their support will carry great weight in the community and they will be able to open doors. If possible, work with more than one leader. The more diverse your team is, the more people you will reach. If you decide to approach members of a tribe, refer to Protocol for Working with Tribes.

Following is a step-by-step approach for identifying and reaching out to one or more community leaders.

Step One: Talk to the Community

To identify a leader, ask community members for the names of individuals who are community leaders with an interest in child health issues. Typically, there will be some commonality among the names provided. Following are suggestions on how to identify who the leaders in the community are:

Ask the tribal health council who they would recommend as local AI/AN leaders for children's health care issues
Attend an elders meeting and ask for their input
Go to a local market or the waiting rooms of Head Start and Healthy Start programs and ask mothers who they feel are leaders on children's health issues

Step Two: Reach out to the Leader

Once you have identified a leader within the community, invite them to participate in your outreach efforts using the template letters, or use the messages from the letters to help you prepare for a phone call to the leader.

The goal of the initial contact is to arrange a face-to-face meeting, whenever possible. Meetings are much more effective than phone calls or letters. AI/AN people value personal contact and are much less likely to respond to outreach by phone or written correspondence. Meet with the tribal leader in their community; it will help demonstrate your commitment and interest in their lives.

Step Three: Prepare Your Ask

Once the leader has agreed to meet with you, prepare for the meeting. Their name carries a significant amount of weight within the community, and they can help open doors to others. It's important to make sure your ask is appropriate. Examples of ways they can help are:

Inform you about events or meetings that parents will attend, giving you a chance to meet and greet or make a brief presentation, if appropriate
Post information about health care coverage or keep it on hand, and let parents know whom to contact for more information
Co-sign and/or distribute letters informing prospective parents that they may be eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP.
Introduce you to other leaders or potential corporate partners
Review outreach materials and provide insight into the messages

Step Four: Hold the Meeting

During the meeting, you will want to build a rapport, explain why enrolling in Medicaid or SCHIP is beneficial to families and the AI/AN community, and outline how they can help. Following are tips for the meeting:

Dress casually and encourage your partners to do the same. This will make you more approachable at an event and more comfortable in someone's home.
Listen carefully to the stories community leaders share with you. When community members tell their stories, you are being honored with their "truths," so you should listen quietly and carefully. Do not interrupt to ask questions or talk over them. The latter is a contemporary communication pattern. If you are working with traditional AI/AN people (i.e., rural, reservation or urban), you should wait until they are finished before you respond to their story.
Respect their recommendations on how to move forward. The leader may agree to introduce you to others or ask to do the meeting without your involvement. If your leader prefers to conduct discussions alone, be sure to prepare them for their meetings.

Step Five: Follow up

The leader has used their valuable time to speak with you. Show your respect by following up on the leads they give you, providing them with the information they requested, and helping prepare them for any calls or meetings they agreed to conduct. In addition, as you make progress with your outreach efforts, update them on new developments (e.g., corporate partnerships, increased enrollment, success stories, etc.).

Step Six: Recognize and Thank the Leaders

Thanking your partners can be as simple as writing individual thank you notes or giving them a certificate of appreciation. This recognition serves as a tangible and memorable way to acknowledge their efforts and lets them know that they are participating in an important cause. (See the template Certificate of Appreciation.)