It’s Important to End Your Outreach Well. Here’s How.

Are you a student leader who wants your club to have better attendance at outreach events? As a former leader of a pro-life organization at my university, I faced a similar predicament until I learned to add a critical step to my club’s outreaches: create a space where students can debrief and process after the event. Investing time for this discussion can change the way your club thinks about abortion conversations.

Picture: Josh and Timothy Brahm debriefing with the Students for Life staff after an outreach with them in 2014.

Josh and Timothy Brahm debriefing with the Students for Life staff after an outreach with them in 2014.

Consider whether the following sounds like one of your typical outreach events:

You reserve a table spot on campus. Then you tell your club about the upcoming event, but you end up getting a low response from members. You become frustrated by this, wishing your club was larger and that the current club members would step up and be more committed. You and the other club leaders must stay at the table for much longer than you’d like to because you don’t have enough volunteers to cover the table. This adds stress and takes away from your study time. Each time you want to have a tabling event, you feel even less enthusiastic and more desperate for help than before!

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. I’ve heard stories like this all too often from students I mentor, and it was my story as well until I learned about the power of debriefing after an outreach. Once I gave my fellow club members the opportunity to discuss and process their conversations after tabling events, their feelings about outreach changed. And when their feelings changed, their behavior changed, too. My club members began requesting more outreach events, and they even moved their schedules around so that we could fill all of the time slots. Outreach became a priority because we had a purpose at the table and we came to understand the benefits of the experience for ourselves and our campus.

Getting Started

Picture: Josh and Timothy Brahm lead a debrief session with the University of Michigan Students for Life club after an outreach in 2016.

Josh and Timothy Brahm lead a debrief session with the University of Michigan Students for Life club after an outreach in 2016.

You want the members of your organization to get the most out of your events, and facilitating a short discussion afterwards will help achieve that goal. Debriefing after an outreach event gives students the opportunity to gain feedback from others and process their own experiences out loud, which may differ from the way that they independently processed the event. Instead of each member of your club only learning from their personal conversations, they can learn from every conversation at the table that day.

I always start debrief sessions the way we learned from our friends at Justice For All: by asking everyone to raise their hand if they had at least one conversation. Unless it was an awful outreach day or a bad spot on campus, virtually everyone should raise their hand. Then I’ll ask how many had two conversations. Most raise their hands. “How many had five conversations?” Your club members will be able to see that the day was a huge success.

Then I invite people to share stories from their day. People often share their favorite conversation: perhaps it was with a person who changed their mind or at least ended up closer to the pro-life view than they were before. Sometimes these are stories of funny or weird things that happened. And, sometimes people open up and share a story of a difficult conversation or something that happened that they’re struggling with. Lead by example; care for this person and encourage them. Occasionally people will also share things that pro-choice people said that stumped them. When this happens, give a quick lesson on how you would have responded and/or invite the rest of the group to jump in.

You should encourage as many students as possible to sit down together at the end of the day for the debrief. Even if students were hosting the table earlier in the day and are not scheduled to be there at the end, encourage them to come back for the discussion.

Going Further

You will see results by having even a short debrief session at the end of the day. However, using this method, you will only benefit the really active members of your club who already attend outreach events. That is why I strongly recommend you have two debrief sessions for every outreach: once at the end of the outreach day, and once at the next club meeting.

This may seem like a waste of time, but I promise it is not. I started to do this when I was a club president, and I saw a dramatic shift in the involvement of my club because it changed the way people thought about tabling.

When you start off your pro-life club meeting with a recap of what happened at the last tabling event, the students who didn’t attend the event still have the opportunity to hear about the conversations that took place. Imagine the morale boost to the club members when they hear about how their friend saw someone’s mind change on abortion at the last outreach. Suddenly, this abstract idea of standing at the table becomes a realistic, obtainable goal of helping another student change their mind about abortion. Your club members need to go from thinking about tabling as an uncomfortable or boring situation to viewing it as the amazing opportunity that it is. If they know that your events are not a waste of their time, then they are more likely to come, and debriefing helps people arrive at that understanding.

Furthermore, giving active students another opportunity to share will help with membership retention. Sometimes conversations that happen at outreach are difficult and emotionally draining. Students need to receive support from their friends when this happens, and debriefing at the meeting reminds them that they are part of a team of advocates. If students know ahead of time that they can count on that space to vent and receive encouragement or sympathy, it will sustain their energy and keep them coming back.

Question: Does your student pro-life club currently hold debrief sessions after outreach? What outcomes has this produced?

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The post “It’s Important to End Your Outreach Well. Here’s How.” originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. Subscribe to our email list with the form below and get a FREE gift. Click here to learn more about our pro-life apologetics course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations About Abortion.”

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Director of Training

Rachel is a speaker, writer, and trainer with Equal Rights Institute. Rachel graduated in 2017 from the University of Michigan with a Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience major and Women’s Studies: Gender and Health minor. She was the president of the Students for Life club at the University of Michigan, leading their efforts to educate students on pro-life topics and to advocate for pregnant and parenting students.

Rachel is also a former staff member of the pregnancy medical center, ArborWoman. She formerly served on their Operations Committee and participated as a volunteer in their ministry.

Rachel wants the pro-life movement to be known for its love. “I want us to be courageous enough to speak with charity about abortion. Having a loving approach when presenting a good argument is a sign of strength, not weakness. We cannot allow our anger towards abortion to be directed at those who support its legality. Pro-life people care not just about the unborn, but about all people, and we need them to know that.”

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