There is definitely an art to recruiting new foster parents. For those who are naturally evangelistic about fostering, talking it up may come easy. But even the most passionate advocate has to keep in mind that everyone is in their own unique season of life. Sharing one’s home and family may not be feasible or even possible for some.
Nevertheless, there are techniques we can all use to get conversations started and guide them in a way that can best inspire individuals who are open to this calling to take that first step to learn more. The following are some suggestions that can be used at events or in personal conversations to communicate that there is a great need for foster parents, and lead people to action if they are so inclined.
Calling the called
First, we should focus on finding and calling the called. By this I mean we should be trying to find families for whom foster parenting is likely to become a passion; a calling to serve children who are in desperate need of a stable, loving family. Our society has plenty of people like this. We just need to go where they are, connect with them, and learn how to inspire them.
We shouldn’t need to sell people on foster parenting who have no natural interest in it. We’ve all experienced the occasional person who runs away at the suggestion of foster parenting, usually with a look of panic in their eyes. Maybe our suggestion was the first time they’ve thought about it, and maybe it will be pivotal in their future interest in foster parenting. Right now, however, there’s no need to chase them down and convince them of how needed or how rewarding it is, because they’re not listening. Yet.
Know your audience
Recruiting is an exercise in communication, so it’s very important to know your audience. Whether you’re speaking at an event or hosting a table at one, you need to understand the demographics of attendees.
If it’s a kids’ event, you may have a lot of young families who could be scared off by their fear or unfamiliarity with raising teens. That doesn’t mean you can’t bring it up if that’s where the conversation goes, but it may not be best to lead with that message. On the other hand, if you’re at a concert with teens present, you might be able to get their parents interested in fostering teens, because that’s the season of life they are in.
Visit other tables
Some of the best leads can come from the people hosting other tables at the event. Set up your table a little early, then make the rounds and introduce yourself to other people hosting tables. Getting to know what they are there for, and offering to send people their way who might be interested in their product or service builds good will, and gives you a chance to ask the same of them. They may not do it, but making this personal connection will make your time at the event more enjoyable, and can open up doors for conversation about foster care later.
Engaging visitors walking by a table at a busy event can be difficult, but sitting behind the table puts us at a clear disadvantage. One way you can break through this physical barrier is to stand in front of the table. Make eye contact with passers-by and smile anytime someone looks your way, and be willing to start a conversation. That is the only way to know if they are interested in learning more about foster care.
You will be surprised at how often someone makes eye contact, and if they see a smile, will seek more information on what you’re there for. They may glance down at the table to see what you’re representing, or behind you at a banner, but don’t take this as disinterest and drop the ball. Most people who make direct eye contact with you at first will at least be open to exchanging a few words with you. That’s your opportunity to get a conversation going.
Starting a conversation
The challenge at an event table is to get a meaningful conversation started amidst the noise and distraction of the venue. The art of starting conversations with complete strangers is very useful at this point. For some, this is a gift that comes naturally, but for most people, this can be a little uncomfortable at first. For the more introverted, it’s a challenge worth tackling. I can guarantee you that the satisfaction of breaking the ice will be worth the initial discomfort. Remember, it’s next to impossible to recruit new foster parents without a warm, friendly conversation.
Everyone has to find a technique that works for them, but for most people, a simple question is all it takes: “Have you ever thought about becoming a foster parent?” Those who answer “yes” are the easiest prospects. Simply saying “that’s great” and waiting for their response is often all you need to do; they’ll usually take it from there by asking their own question. Fill any awkward silence with a few comments on how rewarding it is to help these kids. These are the perfect prospects to sign up to get more information and to invite to an information meeting.
There are two types of people who will say “no,” however. There are those who are saying “no, I’ve never thought about it, but I’m open to hearing more,” and “no, I’ve never thought about it, and never intend to.” The first category of “no” you can lead to the information they need. For those in the second category, you can end the conversation pretty quickly so you’re ready to smile and make eye contact with the next person who walks by. J
Be ready to suggest an action
Brochures don’t recruit as much as they support recruiting efforts. Rather than passively wait for them to ask what they should do if they are interested, deliver what’s called a “call to action.” The best action to suggest for someone who shows some interest in learning more about foster care is to ask them to sign up to request more information.
Handing out brochures and other items can be very useful, but you want to minimize the chance that the brochure will stay in their bag and never get looked at again. Ask them to sign up to receive more information, and let them know they’ll be invited to a fun and informal meeting where they’ll be able to ask any questions they want. Then hand them a brochure.
Other tips to make events more productive
- Have a big, eye-catching banner behind the table that clearly tells visitors what the table is about, i.e. recruiting new foster parents.
- Have a bowl of candy to offer visitors to your table. Ask parents if it’s OK to give their child candy, and as you’re doing that, ask the ice-breaker question “Have you ever thought about doing foster care?”
- Have a game like a sandbag toss that kids can do. When they “win,” they get a candy. It’s best to have one person manning the game to keep the line moving, and at least one other person ready to engage in conversation with the parents.
- Resource Table. Have resources organized on the table with informational flyers closest to the guests, and more expensive giveaways (water bottles, yo-yos, keychains, etc.) at the back of the table. When someone shows an interest, you can offer those items but you don’t need to give them away as freely as flyers.
- Information Meetings. Have a stack of flyers or cards with the dates of upcoming information meetings. For visitors who show an interest in learning more, ask them to sign up to request more information (so you have their contact information), then hand them the card with upcoming information meeting dates.
- Signup Sheet. The signup sheet to request more information about foster care should be the “main event” at the table, and the main thing we ask people who are interested in foster care to do. Explain the benefits of signing up–they will receive notifications of upcoming information meetings to ask any questions they have and learn how to get started.
Good recruiting is about putting yourself in the place of the hearer of your message, and answering the questions What would I want to know?, or How would I want to be approached?
We don’t have a difficult message to convey. Most perfect strangers will at least be sympathetic when we say that foster kids need great families to love and mentor them. With a little creativity and a few proven techniques, we can take that good will and use it to connect with more big-hearted families who will be open to this wonderful calling.
Kevin Harper is the author of the upcoming book Foster Parenting Teens, and a foster care speaker, trainer, and mentor with Family Resource & Training Center. His daughter Saty Cornelius just released a book about the experiences of foster teens called More to Me, available on Amazon. Connect with Kevin on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @fosterbetter.