Below is a recap of our ‘teeny conversation’ from May 11th, 2021. The recap is provided to allow our audience to learn from other nonprofit leaders.

Changes are happening in 2021. We know in-person programming is slowly coming back and you need to bring back your audience members who have fallen quiet during the pandemic. But your virtual programming isn’t going away – not after all the amazing new connections you have made without the limits of physical location. How will you keep both audiences engaged? We will share ways we are planning for this dual path and discuss specific challenges you are facing.

Our most recent ‘teeny conversation’, an open conversation with nonprofit leaders around the country, discussed the challenges nonprofits are facing with engaging their audiences as we transition to the “new normal”. From art galleries to supporting vulnerable populations worldwide, participants shared the changes they have seen in their audience over the past year and their concerns for preparing for what is ahead. What could a dual, virtual/in-person program look like? How can we manage it with limited resources? Let’s find out.

New virtual audiences

Many in our conversation were able to see a positive change in their audience during 2020. This came across in 2 different ways;

  1. People new to the organization: As time use and interests changed in 2020, people sought organizations that could help them learn and experience something new. As examples, people came to new, virtual classes about nature conservation and taking care of their health.
  2. More participation from existing audience: With newfound free time and accessibility, some organizations were able to connect with their existing audience in a new way. Virtual programs allowed a chamber to access previously very busy business owners and easily record sessions for those who couldn’t attend. An international organization was able to train people in distant countries who previously couldn’t afford to travel to a training. 

2021 Challenges

Everyone in the conversation shared challenges they expected as they moved back to in-person programming. Here are some of the patterns I saw.

  • Creating a dual experience: How can we make an event engaging both in-person and virtually without straining our resources? Virtual programming offers easy recording but recording in-person events is more difficult, including costly equipment and video editing. It brings up questions like, will the same event be interesting to both groups? Is there a way to allow everyone to engage with each other?
  • Managing 2x programs: Others felt that they now would offer two separate programs – the virtual and in-person – because they were distinctively different. But how would they manage both programs with the same resources? One organization was looking into interns.
  • Back to busy: Some organizations were concerned about people’s lives becoming busy again. After a year of no-commutes or outside entertainment, would their audience not have the time to attend their programs no matter how they were delivered?
  • What’s Next: After a year of virtual connecting, many people are experiencing what’s commonly called Zoom-fatigue. But are the in-person experiences we had in the past what people want to go back to? When it comes to fundraisers, one participant spoke about how wonderful it was to not have the upfront costs of an in-person gala but knows another virtual event won’t cut it. She felt it would be wrong to repeat a virtual fundraiser but it would be stale to go back to the gala – what might be next?
  • Additionally, we discussed how might we use this as an opportunity to engage a more inclusive audience – one that might connect with those who had not been able to engage both before and during COVID. What could a new future look like?


We gave participants a chance to share what they were using that has been helpful for their organizations so far.

  • Sharing in-person experiences:
  • 3D Cameras – these record a 3d view of art space:
  • Go Pro Max: can create a 360 video of a space
  • Cell phones: quality phones can now record 8K videos, but you need to learn how to be good at using the technology
  • Live Stream: Facebook, YouTube
  • QR Code: used for everything from accessing a restaurant menu to dispersing laws and regulations around human trafficking to unreached communities (by placing a QR sticker in public spaces)
  • Took a video production class as a team to learn how to edit the best parts of a video and add pizzazz
  • Edit videos using Adobe Premier Rush and ShotCut
  • Improving virtual experiences:
  • Whiteboards: Google Drawings, Google Jamboards, Miro,
  • Sending a ‘real’ package as a way to make virtual more real
  • Breakout Rooms: Use to inspire conversation with Zoom or Flipgrid
  • AirMeet: Have different rooms, move tables, sponsors, stage for speakers
  • Pheed Loop (conference software): includes a lobby, tracks with multiple sessions, record but have panelists live to answer questions

Emily’s Conclusion

As emotionally turbulent as 2020 was, we are clearly not over the need to pivot. In all of our discussion, there was no clear winner for engaging audiences through different channels without straining valuable resources – videos cost money, and engagement can’t be compromised.

What comes next is building the ability to adapt, and not just in the program delivery method. The past year has made the world a more segmented place – we’ve developed our nests and found the information streams that have made us comfortable.  We need to create open pathways to listen to our audience and focus our resources on the best pathways to connect with them. That might mean testing out a few methods to see what works and being comfortable with change if it doesn’t.

Learn more about engaging your audience and future ‘teeny conversations’ 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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