Most Head Start/Early Head Start programs that have been through DRS will likely tell you that DRS causes stress. One of the stressors is the question of if, how, and when to share information about DRS with staff, program leadership, and community partners.
What’s the worry about communication? There are many! Programs might worry about creating anxiety among staff and that staff will leave the program if they fear it is at risk of losing it’s funding. Programs might be concerned that community agencies will question the program’s ability to uphold its partnerships in the future. These are just a few of the concerns that surface when programs consider if and how to communicate about DRS with internal and external stakeholders.
In our work with programs, we are often asked – will people know our program is in DRS if we don’t tell them? It’s hard to know. Information about DRS competitions is publicly available so there is always a possibility that someone will learn about the grant competition.
When it comes to DRS, our guidance to programs is usually this – you can own it, or it can own you.
Here are tips for how to effectively communicate about DRS – with staff, program leadership, and community partners.
Get out front of the message with staff. Consider the timeline for when your program’s grant competition will take place. Allow enough time before the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) is released to communicate with staff about DRS and what it could mean for the program. Having staff members learn through the grapevine about DRS can raise questions and make staff uneasy. Let staff hear about DRS from you before they hear it from anyone else. Provide an appropriate level of reassurance that every effort is being made to secure the grant funding.
Provide context and expectations to Board and Policy Council. If your program has never been in DRS, it’s possible Board and Policy Council have limited knowledge about what it means for your program. Share information with each group about DRS, their role, and what the months leading up to submission of the proposal will involve. Be clear about timelines and approval requirements. We also recommend providing an update to Policy Council and Board about your communication strategies. Let them know how you are messaging DRS to staff, families, and community partners and ask them to share the same messages for consistency.
Let community agencies know “why.” We don’t mean why your program is in DRS. Rather, let community agencies know why you might be asking them to modify agreements or establish new partnerships. As part of the DRS planning process you are likely assessing existing agreements and reviewing your community assessment to determine how services can be enhanced. Through this process, you might uncover the need for a new partnership or opportunities to amend existing agreements to best meet the needs of children and families. Your planning process and observations are valuable. Share what you learned with community partners so they understand your “why” and how this ties into your efforts to apply for continued funding.
We recommend programs embrace a planned DRS communication strategy. You will be in control of the messaging and this might help to alleviate some of the stress of DRS. Check back in coming weeks for more DRS tips as we lead up to the release of FOAs. We’ll also continue to provide updates about DRS grant forecasts and any changes to anticipated timelines.