Ward Circle Strategies helped conceive of, and quickly stand up, a first-in-the-nation initiative, the “Social Bridging Project,”  to reach vulnerable people one-on-one by phone and connect them with life-changing and lifesaving government and nonprofit resources throughout the state of California during COVID.

COVID-19 wellness calls and texts connected low-income older adults with food, mental health and other resources, and break through social isolation. Disaster readiness calls and texts helped Californians least likely to be prepared for natural disasters to get emergency alerts and plan safe evacuations. Equally important, the project’s callers, known as Bridgers, provided a caring touch, chatting with the people on the other end of the lines, asking about their interests, their emotional well-being, their lives.

These engagements were accomplished remotely in English, Spanish, and Tagalog by volunteers and staff across the state and nation, during the coronavirus pandemic and California’s catastrophic wildfire seasons.

In the early days of the pandemic, the project shared data on common vaccine concerns and misinformation that residents shared in these conversations with government stakeholders and provided data on crucial needs and service gaps throughout.

Goals:

COVID-19 posed a unique challenge for targeted community outreach to deliver life-saving resources across the state and with audiences that had been missed by other methods. Working with the State of California, we needed to develop new outreach methods to make sure older Californians, farmworkers, isolated rural residents, and other vulnerable people knew that “they were not alone” and were helped with warm handoff connections to resources like food banks, friendship lines, vaccine and testing clinics, and an array of other services.

Tactics:

  • We used phone banking technology and practices adopted from voter engagement campaigns. We developed the program in two months and scaled it in 27 counties within 18 months.
  • We created a new mini-grant program to bring an array of nonprofit organizations and AmeriCorps members to the team – harnessing the in-language and cultural competency of diverse teams of callers to make effective outbound calls
  • We created customized digital guides cataloging the available resources in each county in partnership with county emergency managers and social service leaders.
  • We used census, state, and nonprofit data to build outreach lists to reach highly targeted communities.  
  • We developed a comprehensive training, onboarding, and partner support infrastructure to make each call count, including:
    • Live and video training for more than 700 callers
    • Real time technical support and community management

Impact:

  • Statewide outreach:
    • We had nearly 170,000 conversations with Californians in 27 counties.
    • We referred nearly 20,000 households to resources for food, healthcare, housing, mental health services, and utility bill relief.
    • We helped nearly 10,000 households to sign up for alerts, earthquake warnings and power shut-off warnings.
  • Recruited, trained and scheduled:
    • 745 callers from across the state and nation
  • Secured partnerships with 30+ partner organizations
  • Enabled high engagement rates among targeted communities with strategic outreach, including the following:
    • African Americans: 46%
    • Latinos: 51%
    • Filipino: 68%