As an active board member for one of my local community centers, and a (brand new) member of my local neighborhood council, I have been asked to assist with helping with Community Outreach. In both organizations, Community Outreach is handled in a variety of ways, but mostly involves paper mailing lists, newspaper ads, signs, and phone calls. Being a techno-nut, the first thing I said in both cases was "Sure! How's your website?", and quietly awaited a response, only to find out that their websites were both essentially non-existent. Definitely need to fix that. But why? What does a website have to do with community outreach? Before I can answer that, we should probably define what Community Outreach actually is.
Community Outreach is, in a nutshell, reaching out to the people of the community to let them know about things you can do to benefit them, or their community. This could be products you offer, services, upcoming events, etc. Someone who helps with community outreach for an organization (usually a coordinator of some kind) also help out by assisting the community with getting access to these benefits, and gathering feedback about the benefits from people who have used them, so they can try to make the benefits even better.
Alright, back to the original question: what does a website have to do with community outreach? To answer this, I can simply say EVERYTHING! A website is nothing more than an information repository that also serves double-duty as a marketing agent. In this day and age, people are much likely to consult the internet to gather information long before they ever pick up a phone to talk to an actual person. That being said, a well-designed website can provide as much information in a few minutes as a human could in an hour over the phone.
In my personal experiences, the number one reason why most community-oriented events have such a low turnout is because of an honest lack of knowledge of the public; when there are two flyers taped to a pole and a three sentence article in the newspaper, the chances of everyone in a community seeing the notice is slim to nothing. Now, if the same information was posted to the organizations website (and the public were aware of the website's existence), quite a few people would have the ability to see the notice. Throw social media into the mix, and public event could almost instantly be seen by hundreds to thousands of people!
After briefly explaining these bullet points to the two organizations I volunteer for, I had a pretty immediate buy-in, and have completed one of the websites already (pending deployment), and am getting started on the other as we speak! Stay tuned...