Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining Fathers

9 February 2009


1. Commit adequate resources and staff time for outreach. Help funders recognize that initial recruitment and retention takes time.

2. Recruit staff who can relate to fathers and gain their trust. Involve experienced participants or fathers who have completed your programme as paid or volunteer peer leaders and outreach workers. Offer awards or cash for successful recruitment.

3. Get staff and fathers to make presentations to other service providers, schools, child support staff, etc. Use local/national media that potential referral agencies will see.

4. Go through the mothers to find the fathers of their children. Visit a) family planning or antenatal clinics, b) hospital maternity wards, c) teenage pregnancy and young mother programmes, d) baby clinics.

5. Also seek referrals from a) child support agencies, b) social services, c) youth justice system, and d) school teachers/pastoral staff.

6. Use posters/flyers, but word-of-mouth contacts are usually much more effective.

7. Don’t forget the Internet. A lot of young men in particular do “surf.” But remember that they will not go to traditional ‘parenting’ sites.

8. Use the media creatively and often. Announcements on radio and TV, interviews in newspaper articles, etc. Launch your service with a local celebrity, and have regular events that will attract attention. Nurture relationships with supportive journalists.

9. Use messages that the dads you are targeting will relate to:
• develop a catchy slogan or project name (e.g. Be a father to your child)
• avoid messages that are condescending, critical or imply that the service is going to “fix” fathers who use it
• use language that suits the reading abilities of your target group.

10. Other outreach techniques include:
• setting up a table at community events, fairs, etc. – or organise your own
• conducting community surveys and informing people about your project
• establishing programmes in prisons and setting up a follow-up for fathers when they are released
• recruiting wherever dads go – schools, recreation centres, churches, job training schemes, youth centres, street corners, etc.

11. As much as possible, have an “open door” policy. Be ready when fathers are. Be prepared to give those who drop out another chance. Have flexible schedules to accommodate fathers’ situations, particularly as they get involved in education, training and employment.

12. Make it easier for fathers to attend by providing bus fares and/or other forms of transport. Have a crèche if appropriate.

13. Avoid assessing/evaluating too early in the programme (you walk a fine line here, while some assessing or surveying is important for programme evaluation you don’t want to turn potential participants off or give them a false impression of the programme).


1. Staff must be effective and caring. Many men have been let down by others in their lives, and often test staff to see if they are genuine or just doing this work for their own egos. It’s important for workers to pass the test and to come across as approachable and non-judgmental. Workers must also be strong role models who display the attributes that the men are trying to acquire. Fathers often get “hooked” because there is a staff person around who will “be there” for them.

2. Find ways to engage fathers in the programme early on – perhaps by matching them up with current members.

3. Encourage a sense of belonging in the programme, perhaps with t-shirts or badges, informal social activities, a ‘telephone tree’. In support groups, respond to members’ choices of topics and activities.
4. Provide a nurturing atmosphere. Offer snacks; have pictures of fathers and children and interesting posters on the walls. Even if you operate in shared space, create your own identity, particularly in areas where fathers gather.

5. Help manage some of the crises that keep fathers from attending. Have funds available for emergencies.

6. Ask for feedback on a regular basis, and respond flexibly to it.

7. Offer activities for families where dads can bring their children – including on weekends. Make it fun.

8. Call dads who don’t show up to find out what’s going on. Encourage other dads to call them too if appropriate. When they are back, tell them they were missed.


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