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Recruiting and Retaining Program Participants

Successful health promotion and disease prevention programs engage participants and maintain their participation over time. To achieve this, programs use a combination of strategies to develop a purposeful implementation approach. To reach and involve participants in health promotion and disease prevention activities, consider the following strategies and approaches:

  • Identify the intended population: Consider the demographics, geography, existing behaviors, or desired behaviors within the community. Segmenting the population can result in greater receptiveness and benefit for participants.
  • Spread the word: Develop recruitment materials such as flyers, text messages, newspaper articles, social media posts, newsletters, radio advertisements, health fairs, presentations, and phone calls. Using more than one type of recruitment material often works well.
  • Develop culturally relevant materials: Ensure messages are easy to read and culturally appropriate for the intended audience. Effective messages tell a story about how program participation will provide a tangible emotional and/or physical benefit.
  • Encourage participation: Convey enthusiasm in recruitment strategies and materials. Have fun talking about the program!
  • Increase interest among the intended population: Ask “program champions” to help with recruitment.
  • Engage participants: Plan a creative program structure based on the interest of the intended population. Examples include cooking classes, exercise sessions, yoga classes, health screenings, and health fairs.
  • Motivate participants: Provide incentives such as discounted memberships to athletic clubs, free items that encourage healthy eating (for example cutting boards and salad shakers), exercise equipment, and other items or services related to the goals of the health promotion or disease prevention program.
  • Retain participants: Social support such as teams, coaching, and leadership opportunities can motivate and maintain participation.
  • Adjust the program as needed: Assess the program's effectiveness, make any necessary adjustments, and redeploy the program to ensure it continues to be relevant and meaningful for the people involved.

Resources to Learn More

Five Strategies for Successful Recruitment and Retention of Children and Families in Human Services Programs
Provides strategies, resources, and guidelines for developing a comprehensive and customized recruitment and retention plan to increase participation in community-based health programs.
Authors(s): Barnes-Proby, D., Schultz, D., Jaycox, L.H., & Ayer, L.
Organization(s): RAND Corporation
Date: 2017

Rural Health Research Toolkit
Guides researchers when developing recruitment and retention strategies to engage rural communities in clinical research. Includes resources on best practices when developing research procedures, and discusses barriers and other considerations that may impact participation.
Organization(s): North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute
Date: 7/2020