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This One Tactic Could Boost Retention in Your Fatherhood Program

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Oct 5, 2021


What’s the best thing you can to do get dads to return consistently to fatherhood program sessions?

New research suggests that you should send a text message reminder that a slot has been “reserved” for them at the next session.

At National Fatherhood Initiative® we’re always on the lookout for cutting edge research in fields other than fathering and parenting that has the potential to make fatherhood programs and other father-serving efforts more effective.

Indeed, you can check out ideas from research to try in our free ebook 8 Cutting Edge Ideas to Super-Charge Your Fatherhood Program. We describe several “nudges” that research in behavioral science suggests can improve your work with dads and how you can apply them.

What’s a nudge?

It’s a small change introduced into the environment surrounding a fatherhood program that influences dads to make better decisions that benefit them in the short-term or long-term.

Use of Texting

As I pointed out in this blog article, staff who run fatherhood programs have used texting in recent years to:

  • Reinforce content taught in programs that serve dads.
  • Increase retention of dads in programs.
  • Provide ongoing support to dads so that they feel a stronger connection to the organization, program, and staff.

Unfortunately, recent research hasn’t shown that texting increases retention of dads in programs. It’s shown that the primary benefit of texting is to provide ongoing support to dads, a laudable tactic that improves customer service that’s worthy of use.

Now, before you write off texting for retention keep in mind that research hasn’t shown it to be an effective tactic yet for that purpose. I pointed out that research on the use of texting in fatherhood programs is still in its infancy. The problem might not be texting itself but how staff structure texts. Perhaps if staff had structured the texts more effectively, the texts would have increased retention. 

The Power of Framing

Scholars in behavioral science often use the word framing to describe the way in which we present messages. We know that a person’s decision to choose one option over another is influenced more by how it’s framed (or presented) than by the substance of the message. In this case, the decision is whether dads choose to attend subsequent sessions or not.

A recent study that involved more than 47,000 people on how to frame a message to increase the rate of annual flu vaccinations showed that telling people they had a vaccine “reserved” for them at a scheduled doctor’s appointment was more effective than telling them that a vaccine was “available” for them. That simple change in how to frame the message increased the vaccination rate by 11 percent. Moreover, sending that same message twice before the doctor’s appointment was particularly effective.

Could you apply the same frame to reminder texts to attend fatherhood sessions? You bet.

Rather than saying, “Hey, Darrin. Just a friendly reminder that we have a spot available for you at the next session of The Dad Project,” say instead, “Hey, Darrin. Just a friendly reminder that we have a spot reserved for you at the next session of The Dad Project.” And send the text twice before the session.

This frame has potential to help not only with retention but with recruitment. After all, the study on getting a flu shot involved recruiting people to get it. If you have dads’ mobile phone numbers before you start your next fatherhood group—say from an intake form that your organization uses to enroll dads in other programs and services of your organization—you could send them a text that says, “Hey, Darrin. This is John with The Dad Project. I’ve reserved a spot for you in our next dads group. Spots are limited, so contact me right away to keep your spot.” (That message also uses another effective framing tactic known as scarcity. People are more likely to act when they know that something is limited and that, if they delay or don’t act, they might miss out.)

I encourage you to try this tactic for retention and recruitment. And if you do, please let me know how it turns out!

Would you like to super-charge your fatherhood program? Download our free ebook to discover eight research-informed tips.

Cutting Edge Tips for Running an Exceptional Fatherhood Program (On Demand)

Topics: Featured, Program Recruitment & Retention, General Fatherhood Research & Studies, Any Dad/Community Based

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