3 Low-Cost Ways to Do Outreach and Education on Elder Abuse

By Keith Morris, President, Elder Law of Michigan, and Director, Center for Elder Rights Advocacy

Image representing mind as an open drawer. Many of our senior legal hotline programs are starting new model approaches grants, all of them with some focus on addressing the problem of elder abuse.  I thought it would be a good time to share some tips I have picked up over the years regarding doing low-cost or free outreach and education. (Let me say that I started this post with 7 low-cost ways, but had to cut it back so that the article wouldn’t be so long.  I’ll share the others with you in an upcoming post.)

If you have any questions, would like some feedback on a program that you are working on, or have suggestions that you would like to share with others, please contact me at kmorris@ceraresource.org.

1) Use your existing correspondence efficiently. 

If you are already sending a closing letter, a satisfaction survey, or other information after you talk with your client on the phone, you should consider adding information about the problem of elder abuse.  It could be a paragraph in your closing letter, a flyer that lists some of the facts about the problem, or an insert that tells the story of how your program helped a client who was a victim of elder abuse.

Make sure you have a clear reason for adding this to your mailing, and make sure the reader can figure that out as well.  Do you want them to call your hotline for more information?  Do you want them to know more about their rights, etc.?  Often, narrowing the information to one specific topic makes it easier for the person to understand.  For example, focusing on a particular scam and how to identify it.

It is important to pay attention to the language that you use in materials like this.  Statements like “are you a victim of elder abuse?” may not work because often the older adult doesn’t like to see themselves as victims.  There are several approaches to take, such as focusing on the fact that many older adults are taken advantage of each year.  Another approach is, “Are you or someone you love worried about how to deal with…”

Don’t underestimate the importance of the correct graphic if are adding an insert or a flyer to your mailing.  For topics like elder abuse, it is difficult to decide on what emotion we want the reader to feel when looking at the information.  I try to stay away from very sad images and very happy images.  Perhaps you will find it easier to focus on the facts or situation and find an image to reflect that.  For example, if your information is about a phone scam, using an image of a phone with a question mark or a caution sign might be what you need.

Here are some examples of flyers and inserts that have been used.

Be sure to keep track of the number of clients that you provide this information to because you probably will want to include this activity in a grant report.  It is a good idea to come up with a calendar of topics and include something in each client correspondence. (Always make sure you know the number of pages that you can include in the envelope before the amount of postage required increases.)

Finally, if you have any questions or would like some ideas on how to use this to educate clients on relevant topics, the staff at CERA are always eager to help.

2) Educate service providers and professionals about the problem of elder abuse. 

Over the years, I have found that providing education and resources to professionals that work with the older adult population was one of the most cost effective ways to do outreach to seniors.  By doing a presentation on the problem of elder abuse or some related topic to senior housing service coordinators, law enforcement, nurses, in-home care service providers, etc., you can make an indirect connection to every person that they deal with.

Almost everyone at a presentation like this is grateful for the information you shared with them and for the resources that are available.  Each person there wants to help the older adult they are working with, and wants to have as many tools at their disposal.  Be sure to leave them with some flyers or cards that they can give to the older adult who may need your services.

Another way that you can accomplish this same goal is to write articles that can be included in the newsletter for the state chapter of the professional association.  Also, most of these professionals have continuing education requirements, so try to get a webinar approved for credit and offer it for free.

I do want to mention a few groups of professionals that we often overlook:

  • Hair Stylists.  Whether someone at the beauty shop or barber shop, these professionals are great sources of information for their clients and can provide your information to their older adult clients.
  • Postal Employees.  They often see the older adult just about every day and could share information.
  • Meter Readers, electric company or gas company.  There are several great programs throughout the country where utility companies are checking in on older adults on a regular basis.

3) Use your Clients 

Almost every hotline that keeps track of how a client found out about their services finds that a family member or friend told the client about the hotline.  It is this unofficial endorsement of our services that gives the older adult the courage to call about a problem that they are having.  So why don’t we make it easier for people to be our ambassadors and tell others about the great work that we do?

Over the years, I have tried a variety of approaches for this.  One of the ways to do this is to insert some pre-print business cards in the envelope with the client letter.  The cards simply have the hotline logo, the phone number to call, and the hours that the hotline is open.  In one campaign we did, at the end of the call, the attorney told the client that there would be some business cards in with the closing letter and encouraged the client to give a card to someone that they think might need our services. Another time, we encouraged the client to post our card at the grocery store or at their pharmacy.

But, one of the most effective ways that we found to do outreach about the hotline was to add something to the closing letter like this, “Even if you are unable to make a donation to support the work of the hotline, there is still something you can do.  Tell a friend or family member who may need our services about us and how they can reach us.”  Of course, that was included after we asked for a donation, but it was a way for the client to feel like they were giving something back to the program that helped them.

I haven’t used this method for outreach and education for addressing the problem of elder abuse, so I can only recommend it for general outreach.  I would love to hear from others that have done something similar as a way to get the word out about the services available to combat elder abuse.

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