Outreach is the activity of providing services to any population that might not otherwise have access to those services. A key component of outreach is that the group providing it is not stationary, but mobile; in other words, it involves meeting someone in need of an outreach service at the location where they are. In addition to delivering services, outreach has an educational role, raising the awareness of existing services. It includes identification of under-served populations and service referral.
Outreach is often meant to fill in the gap in the services provided by mainstream services, and is often carried out by non-profit, nongovernmental organizations. This is a major element differentiating outreach from public relations. Compared with staff providing traditional services, outreach staff may be less qualified but more highly motivated.
Three different types of outreach have been identified: domiciliary, detached, and peripatetic. Satellite outreach is where services are provided at a dedicated site.
Outreach tools include leaflets, newsletters, advertising stalls and displays, and dedicated events. Outreach commonly takes place physically at local community institutions such as libraries, community centres and markets. Compared with traditional service providers, outreach services are provided closer to where people live, are voluntary, and have fewer, if any, enforceable obligations.
Outreach can target various populations, from sex workers and drug users to museum goers.