Outreach is a broad term in quizbowl that refers to actions taken to grow the game as a whole through the establishment of quizbowl teams at new schools, the conversion of existing teams and tournaments playing non-pyramidal quizbowl to pyramidal quizbowl questions and good quizbowl practices, and the expansion and support of existing teams on the quizbowl circuit.
Need For Outreach
Outreach to Other Schools (External Outreach)
Currently, only a relatively small proportion of existing educational institutions in the United States (and the world as a whole) have active quizbowl teams, though forms of quizbowl maintain a relatively expansive global geographic footprint. Many other institutions have teams that play only one or two events per season. And many schools have teams that only participate in non-pyramidal events each year. The exact proportion of schools in each state that actively participate in multiple pyramidal quizbowl events each year varies considerably from state-to-state. Even in states with very high levels of participation in pyramidal quizbowl like Illinois, there are hundreds of schools that do not field quizbowl teams each year.
In other states like Arkansas and Kansas, a large proportion of schools have quizbowl teams but almost all of the teams in the state play only non-pyramidal events. Attracting more of these teams to more pyramidal quizbowl events and convincing existing hosts in those states to change the types of questions used as well as potentially the format and rules for their tournaments to match the standards of good quizbowl is a major outreach challenge.
Outreach Within Schools (Internal Outreach)
Within schools, quizbowl must also compete for interest with various other academic extracurriculars, including some like Science Olympiad, Odyssey of the Mind, and Academic Decathlon that have long histories of institutional support in certain regions. Maintaining a quizbowl team also requires a baseline level of organization within a school, usually in the form of needing to maintain a certain number of participants and a faculty advisor each year to remain an official extracurricular at a school. A number of formerly strong high school quizbowl teams such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Ezell-Harding have gone defunct after the departure of coaches or involved students. Expanding the members of quizbowl teams at schools to include more members is a key part of outreach as well, especially since losing players to graduation can accelerate the loss of valuable institutional knowledge and leadership.
External Outreach Techniques
Many instances of external outreach take place as part of a tournament host's efforts to attract teams to attend a given tournament, but external outreach can be undertaken by individuals or groups at any time. It is, however, often very helpful to have specific dates of upcoming tournaments—preferably those with a novice division for new teams—available when you conduct outreach to give new teams a specific date to aim for and organize around.
Emails to specific contacts at a school are a quick and costless way to conduct outreach. At schools with an existing quizbowl team of any kind, the coach of the team is usually the best point of contact. Identifying potential contacts at a school without a quizbowl team can require more research; potential options include the principal, vice or assistant principal (ideally one that oversees student activities, if available), activities (sometimes also athletic) director, gifted coordinator, and/or specific teachers. Ideally each email is tailored to the specific school and region (i.e. if other schools in the region call quizbowl "Scholars Bowl", it makes sense to call it that in the email).
Outreach emails to schools not familiar with quizbowl should generally be short and link to additional material rather than try to explain all of quizbowl within one email. Establishing interest and ensuring that the email finds its way to an interested sponsor (perhaps by being forwarded by the principal to an internal listserv) is the primary goal of an initial email, with more details coming later.
Email outreach does, however, have the drawback of being a bit of a numbers game: getting a response rate of 5% is outstanding while 2-4% is more typical. Nevertheless, such efforts—when done repeatedly in the same area over several years—can be very effective in forming and expanding circuits in new areas.
In some parts of the country, it may make sense to pitch quizbowl via a phone call. Leaving messages is likely a better option than calling during school hours, though calling after school might also work. You can also leave a message as a follow-up after an email to the same contact.
In some parts of the country, sending old-fashioned envelopes through the mail can still be effective, though the costs of stamps can add up. This may be most worthwhile as a change of pace to contacts if emails have not been working. Note that one advantage of snail mail is that you can include both a personalized letter as well as a small information sheet with sample questions, dates of upcoming tournaments, and links to more quizbowl resources.
Talking with students from other schools at other academic competitions can be a great way to drum up potential interest in a quizbowl team. Quizbowl may also be represented at various meetings of local educational officials or school fairs via a booth or a presentation. Making sure to talk with new teams at the first few tournaments that they attend is also an important part of this to help welcome them to the circuit.
After establishing initial contact with an interested contact at a school, an in-person visit to the school to talk with the contact and interested students is a highly effective option. Bringing a buzzer system to demonstrate how quizbowl works and reading some accessible questions to interested students can help jump-start interest in quizbowl at a school and prepare teams before their first tournament.
Given the amount of time that it can take to identify and send emails or make phone calls to potential contacts, the need to keep track of which schools have been contacted, and the need to provide resources to new teams and more generally promote quizbowl as an activity in an area, using an organization as a vehicle for coordinating outreach can be a good idea. Organizations in Missouri and Pennsylvania have extensive websites with resources for local teams and may help organize outreach campaigns alongside tournament hosts throughout the year. In other states like Illinois, the state coaches association may conduct considerable amounts of outreach each year.
Internal Outreach Techniques
At the middle and high school level, many of these assume the existence of a coach or sponsor for the quizbowl team who is willing to provide classroom space and administrative support for a quizbowl team. If your school does not have a team already, the first step is usually getting the support of a faculty member at your school to help sponsor and advertise the club. Note too that some schools have an overwhelming amount of interest in quizbowl and thus use try-outs to whittle down the number of team members while others have an open-door policy of accepting everyone who attends.
Announcements and Posters
Getting out word that the quizbowl team at a school exists and is welcoming new members is a key first step. Announcements should include practice or meeting times and locations as well as ideally an email address or other form of contact to respond to students with questions. Use the morning announcements, posters or flyers on bulletin boards, downtime during classes, space on various whiteboards, social media, or any other reasonable medium to ensure that anyone who might be interested in quizbowl at your school is aware that your school has a team. This usually needs to be repeatedly yearly, ideally at the start of the year before students go off and join other organizations.
One practice that has worked at some schools is to reach out individually to students who might be interested in quizbowl via a personalized email or letter inviting that student to attend quizbowl practices and/or join the quizbowl team. Teachers may ask other teachers for a list of students who seem particularly intellectually curious or who might be strong students but not currently involved in the quizbowl team and then send invitations to those students and/or their parents. This technique can help attract more students who might be interested in quizbowl, but wouldn't necessarily choose to attend practice on their own without this kind of direct encouragement. It should ideally be used as a complement to more open recruitment calls, however, so that the team does not become an invite-only activity.
Intramural, Classroom, and Student-vs-Teacher Competitions
One way to raise the profile of quizbowl on a school campus is to have the quizbowl team moderate matches between various other student groups, perhaps as part of a larger school-wide intramural competition. Others may set up exhibition matches between the quizbowl team and a team of faculty members that is held in front of the school at an assembly or at a fundraiser. Quizbowl sponsors may also want to break out the buzzer system within their regular classes during periods of downtime (such as waiting on state-mandated testing or grade-specific assemblies) or as a way to review before a test.
Keep initial outreach contacts short
Don't try to explain everything about quizbowl in your initial emails or announcements. Make sure to avoid using quizbowl lingo or acronyms that will only confuse potential new team contacts (e.g. "Our tournament, LOLCATS, will use the HS Regs-level NAQT IS-2XX set with modified ACF rules that will qualify for the HSNCT" is meaningless gibberish to most people). Offer a brief description of quizbowl and aim to start a dialogue with a school contact over email, over Zoom/the phone, or ideally in-person with interested students if possible. Keep that first email or phone message short and to the point.
Learn about the school you're contacting
School websites and local people can provide a wealth of information about what a school values and how you might best pitch quizbowl to the school. Does the school have a history of winning, say, Science Bowl competitions? If so, adjust your pitch to congratulate them on that success and then offer quizbowl as an all-subject complement. Is the school proud of their Great Books curriculum? If so, mention how many of those works will come up in quizbowl sets. You might also want to check the school's history of participation in quizbowl via the NAQT website or the Quizbowl Database Search. This is especially important for schools that have non-pyramidal quizbowl teams and who might view pyramidal quizbowl with skepticism (more than a few of those schools have had some kind of negative experience with pyramidal quizbowl or a related event, usually bad memories of a poorly-run tournament).
Avoid bad-mouthing other formats or activities
Even though non-pyramidal questions are commonly referred to as bad quizbowl among the broader quizbowl circuit, many schools that play on those questions and in those formats are satisfied with their experiences and will view any alternative formats or denigration of their local format with suspicion. Over time, if they play pyramidal quizbowl events, they may very well change their mind, but they need to attend good quizbowl events first. Thus, focus on the benefits of pyramidal quizbowl more broadly, such as helping teams learn new clues or getting more experience playing. For many non-pyramidal teams, winning their county league or local TV show tournament is a prestigious honor within their community and they are more interested in anything that will help them achieve that. Keep this in mind as you conduct outreach and interact with these schools.
Successful outreach can take time, sometimes stretching over many years at a single school depending on how the school recognizes and funds new organizations (at some schools, they may need to get approval from their school board to make quizbowl an official activity for instance). Feel free to check in with your contact quarterly or semesterly to make sure that they are still interested and/or not encountering any undue obstacles in getting a team started, but recognize that even in the best circumstances starting a brand-new team is likely measured in months rather than days.
When dealing with principals and other administrators, professionalism is of paramount importance. Avoid in-jokes or other unprofessional behavior in your communications. When conducting outreach to new schools, you are representing the activity of quizbowl as a whole. When conducting outreach to non-pyramidal schools, you are representing all of pyramidal quizbowl. Be respectful, polite, and friendly.
Common Outreach Mistakes
Talking about doing outreach instead of actually doing outreach
The best-laid plans for outreach are entirely useless if they are not actually put into action. Talking about doing outreach is fine insofar as you are attempting to enlist others in your outreach efforts and/or learn more about the area that you are planning to do outreach in. But sooner rather than later, you should start sending out emails and actually do some outreach.
Assuming one post is enough for outreach
Posting on the HSQB forums, making an announcement on an existing quizbowl Facebook group, or saying something in the Quizbowl Discord is fine, but usually insufficient for effective outreach. Do not be surprised if you get only a tiny handful of registrations from such announcements (and usually only from existing, plugged-in teams). People who are not already interested in quizbowl are very unlikely to come across announcements or information about quizbowl in those locations. You need to send out announcements via email or snail mail to schools that do not frequent the forums or follow the other external outreach techniques to reach out to new schools directly.
Within schools, you should also make sure to spread your message through as many different mediums as possible as well; do not assume a single slide on a school-wide powerpoint presentation about club options will suffice.
Only reaching out to "elite" schools
Schools of all kinds can benefit from having quizbowl teams and there are far more "non-elite" schools than "elite" schools (via whatever criteria you want to use to define "elite") out there. Limiting outreach only to a tiny handful of schools is likely to lead to a very limited pool of potential players and hurt the ability of quizbowl to make inroads in new places and with new groups of people. Quizbowl as a whole benefits from more teams playing, so casting a broad net in terms of outreach is a better idea than just limiting outreach to a few schools.
Not providing new teams with difficulty-appropriate competition opportunities
New teams will greatly benefit from a graduated introduction to quizbowl starting with novice-level questions and similar novice-level competition. Thus, a broader outreach effort that tries to bring in 3-4 new-to-quizbowl schools at any one time is more likely to lead to a critical mass of new-to-quizbowl teams that will enjoy and benefit from playing against other novice teams than isolated outreach efforts that might only bring in one new school at a time. This especially helps to avoid the classic "one new team shows up to play against a bunch of veteran teams on hard questions, loses every match, and is never seen again" phenomenon.
Not directing new teams and players to difficulty-appropriate resources and practice questions
More than one new team has gone to the packet archive, clicked on the first set that they saw, then assumed that PACE NSC-level questions were the norm in quizbowl. Make sure to use novice-level questions like SCOP as examples to start off with rather than hard questions and direct new teams to those novice question sets specifically.