Connecting in a Disconnected World: A Recap of our “Teeny Conversation”


In 2020 you stopped in-person programming and shifted what you could to virtual. While some of your audience followed, do you know what happened to the rest? As you plan to shift back to ‘normal’, will those that dropped off come back? In this session, we discussed what retention has looked like for organizations during COVID-19 and what predictions we have for audiences returning. Are there actions you can take now to bring people back?

On January 11, 2021, a small group of nonprofit leaders came together to discuss how we are connecting to our audiences in a disconnected world. Our participants came from a variety of sectors including museums, advocacy, arts, religion, and education.

The first question asked was “What changes have you seen in your audience during 2020? What was positive? What was negative?”. Not surprisingly, many shared how they have seen a decrease in participation as events went online. Fundraising from events declined. Email unsubscribes went up.

While these trends look bad, we must also not draw the wrong conclusions from them. If your email subscribers dropped in 2020, don’t assume that was because you emailed too much. Take a look at all of your numbers, did open or click through rates increase or drop? These can help you tell the difference between building a more focused email list vs. losing potential supporters.


On the flip side, many nonprofits saw diversity in who came to their online programs. Some connected with people abroad – from eastern Europe to Mexico & – and others saw more diversity from populations that may not have been able to attend before, whether to physical or economic limitations in access.


If you have a population that is attending your virtual events that you’d love to see continue to participate be sure to reach out directly to them to find out why they attended and how you can continue that engagement.


Next, we spoke about how organizations are stayed connected with their audiences in 2020. Given the variety of sectors represented, there were a unique range of ideas that leaders shared, such as;

• A museum, unable to have visitors, became much more connected with
their audience over social media – Instagram, YouTube and Facebook– by appealing to their “history buffs”.

• Changing full-day educational programs to shorter, more digestible programs over 6 days.

• Using virtual meeting tools, such as chats, polls, and game wheels to engage families and young children in ways beyond a “zoom call” online.

• Training volunteers to call constituents that were otherwise disconnected from the organization, listening, and providing updates.

• Sending a mailer to an audience with a pre-paid reply card asking how they were and how they would like to be connected to the organization during this time.


As the examples above show, find ways to interact with your audience that are not just asks for donations. Instead, provide updates and listen as it will give you valuable connection and feedback for your next campaign.


We ended our discussion with asking what elements of connecting with audiences leaders would be taking into their planning for 2021. Most leaders said they would continue some online programming, even as people began to meet back in person to take advantage of the extended network and accessibility for some audiences. Those that ramped up social media will continue to engage that
way. Most leaders agreed that multiple forms of communication were needed to meaningfully engage with their audiences.

As you look to 2021, are you seeking ways to better understand what your audience is thinking relative to your work? During our next ‘teeny conversation’, we will share ways you gather useful information from your audience – through data, surveys, interviews, or other methods – that will help you plan the year
ahead. Even if you have not started this process, come and learn methods from each other and teenyBIG’s human-centered expert, Emily Taylor.

up next: What is Your Audience Thinking? Teeny Conversation on Feb. 9th, 9am PST/11am CST/12pm EST Register here

About author

Emily Taylor

Emily Taylor the principal of teenyBIG, is passionate about helping nonprofits find better ways to engage the people who matter to them. She guides teams in stepping outside of their day-to-day work in order to create stronger connections with their audiences to turn lackluster followers into enthusiastic supporters, and how to apply human-centered design, a process that re-evaluates the experience of a product or service’s end user.

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