Episode 37: Stand Out And Improve Engagement By Having A Real Conversation With Emily Taylor From Teeny Big

RTNP 37 | Improve Engagement


How do you stand out in a sea of communication?

On this week’s episode of Relish This, I had a fun conversation with Emily Taylor. She’s the Principal of Teeny Big, an organization that focuses on turning lackluster partners into passionate supporters.

Emily works a lot with the Audience Engagement Cycle—or what they call a Pathway—to connect with stakeholders and create deeper, more meaningful connections and stakeholder engagement.

Our conversation centered around escalating engagement. We discussed how to create intentional messaging to attract and connect with specific stakeholders. The goal, of course, is to get people to take that “next step” and ultimately, become life-long supporters.

The key is in relationship-building. To really forge a strong, lasting connection, ensure that you aren’t just blasting people with donation requests or constantly asking for volunteers to help. Get a feel for your audience and how engaged they are.

Testing a variety of content and scheduling in regular check-ins with your stakeholders is important to creating consistent engagement.

This was a great episode, and I hope you enjoy it.


Action Ask: Think about your audience engagement as a path.

Listen to the podcast here


Stand Out And Improve Engagement By Having A Real Conversation With Emily

My guest in this episode is Emily Taylor. She is the Principal at teenyBIG. She helps nonprofit leaders turn lackluster followers into passionate supporters. She is doing some great work to talk through the audience engagement cycle. She calls it a pathway and how to create opportunities to escalate people’s engagements. Once you’ve brought them into your organization, how do you get them to do more? How do you get them to take that next step?

It’s being intentional about your messaging to attract and connect with really specific stakeholders. It’s not being wishy-washy and focusing on how to get people to take that next step. This was a fun conversation. We had a lot of commonalities in terms of how we approach nonprofit marketing. I think you’re going to love this show. Here we go.

Emily, thanks for being on the show.

Thanks for having me, Stu. I’m glad to be here.

I’m looking forward to our conversation. We appear to have a lot of overlap in the way that we think about nonprofit marketing. I know that you are an expert in helping nonprofits take their lackluster support, energize that, and get donors and volunteers excited about being part of the organization. I’d love to hear a little bit more about your business and how you do that. We can also talk some more about that engagement life cycle.

I help nonprofits take their lackluster followers and turn them into passionate supporters to build momentum for an organization, and to have extra capacities so they can pull in volunteers, advocates, and donors when they need them. My philosophy is based on my background in human-centered design, taking a look at what your organization looks like and means through your audience’s eyes. That informs a lot of the work that I do. I help nonprofits make a plan for thinking about how they’re engaging people, and bringing them along a path so that they do lead them to become those more passionate supporters that they need.

It sounds like it’s almost part of what we call our inspire phase where people have raised their hands and they’re part of the team, but they’ve maybe gone away a little bit. All of those places where an organization that’s trying to do more good in the world can reenergize that group or these people that are already knowledgeable about what you do, and have maybe participated in the past to do more.

It’s much like a pipeline. When you then motivate those people, how do you make sure you’re still having people you don’t even know yet fill in to that spot so you can then lead them up?

It’s like that escalation of engagement approach.

A lot of people call it an engagement ladder. I’ve been using engagement path and engagement map because there are more layers we can add to it as well to help guide us. Not just ask people to do stuff, but understand what they need to hear at the right time.

I had a conversation with a guy from NextAfter, and one of the things that he talked about was how there aren’t a lot of people who wake up in the morning and say, “How can I give away some of my money?” In the nonprofit space, there are a lot more challenges and friction to overcome when trying to get people to engage with the organization.


RTNP 37 | Improve Engagement
Improve Engagement: Many philanthropic organizations don’t see themselves as such anymore. These are the people who need coaching so they don’t get stuck and keep moving up the ladder.


It’s not, “I put money in as a user and I get something out in terms of like a tangible, physical thing that I’m buying,” for example. That whole idea of a funnel is misconstrued in the nonprofit world. It’s more like a mountain because you have to keep pushing people up past these little ridges of friction and get them to the top where they then become actual stakeholders.

I like the idea of a mountain. I’ve heard ladder, which makes each piece sound very equal, but it is more like a mountain where there are different hurdles along the way.

What we’ve also found is that it’s not necessarily linear. A lot of times, there will be people who are convinced from the get-go and they’re like, “I love it. I want to become a donor. I want to be part of this organization.” Other people require a lot more convincing to take that leap. People can lurk for a while before they sign on. An interesting thing for nonprofits, in particular, to be considering is how much time and effort does it take to get someone to engage and be willing to ride that out?

I was looking at some statistics on for-profit companies that are using customer journey mapping and things like that for their own engagement. It made me think of how your audience is shopping their consumers, as well as philanthropists and advocates of your organization. Thirty-four percent of companies are implementing journey mapping so it made me think of how much consumers are getting used to that.

As they shift over to the nonprofit world, they’re not necessarily having that same staged engagement or that path to bring them along. They’re not feeling part of the process, but I think more and more people are getting comfortable with that because companies like Starbucks and Uber are bringing people down a journey and gathering feedback from them. They are building that process to be very engaging. Nonprofits also have to figure out how they can deliver on those experiences as well.

You bring up such a good point there that people become accustomed to how to be sold, and when something is breaking that process that they’re ready to accept and wrap their arms around, that can be additional friction added to the relationship right there. It’s because if you’re not following trends, there’s a potential that you’re turning people off.

They’re habits that people get used to and it’s hard for them to break them.

Tell us a little bit more about the journey and the mapping that you do. What’s your process there?

I like to look at an engagement with an organization. It’s like when you learn a guitar. When you first learn a guitar, you don’t know a lot about the instrument, but you get excited by seeing a famous person play guitar. You want to learn Stairway to Heaven but it takes some steps. You have these different elements of excitement, but also basics that you need to learn to move forward and start to understand more complex things, all the way to then getting to appreciate different greats in the guitar world and maybe performing your own songs.

In that same way, the nonprofit is going to forget how complicated their work is. They’ve done it for a long time and they’re such experts at it that our first process is to lift them out of that expertise for a moment so that we can look at it like, “Where are people starting caring about your organization? What are the hooks that bring them in and what are the baby steps?” They need to know those first notes or chords that help them get your organization.

We break it up into stages and think about what they need to learn next to care a little more, all the way up to whatever the most engaged they hope people to be. It could be becoming a board member eventually or putting the organization in its will. It’s the highest level. We look at that as a whole and build in those baby steps along the way so that they know where they’re guiding people towards.


Asking for customer feedback doesn’t mean they’re directing your programs or changing your mission. You are just getting a sense of where people are at.


You’re really looking at motivations and the triggers that can occur to transition someone from a one-time donor to a repeat donor to a super donor, and then all the way up through volunteer opportunities, inclusion in the board, or getting them to inspire others to take part in that journey as well.

I talk about this as a map because it helps to know the points along that journey. Once you know those points, whether it’s following you on Facebook, and now you want them to make a small donation or come to an event, then we can take a look at that in-between point and how do you motivate someone to get there? In human-centered design, there are some elements we use that are called jobs to be done. We can look at functional jobs to be done and emotional jobs to be done.

I also like to throw in cultural and what that really is is looking at what do people need at that moment. There are some functional needs. They need to be asked, they need information. They might need some statistics that show the motivation, but they also have some emotional needs like being a bigger part of your mission. It might be joining a group of people with a similar passion for something. When we understand those needs and where people are at that point, it’s easier to get them to that next point and guide them there.

I like the idea of being aware of where people sit in their journey and understanding what the kind of typical next step might be so that you can present that at the opportune moment. Are you recommending nonprofits to engage with any tools that can help them track this, or what’s your approach to getting people to understand what their stakeholder’s journey might be?

I have a coaching program where I help guide them through this and we work through it together. We pinpoint what they know about their audience. The tricky part is usually once we’ve mapped that out, we realized there’s a big gap somewhere. You can see this a lot in arts organizations that have a lot of events. They run into a point where people are no longer seeing them as a philanthropic organization. They’re getting stuck at that coming to an event point and not moving up that path or that ladder to make a donation.

What we do is we start to talk to those people. Whether it’s work that I do or helping coaching organizations to do this, we look at, “How do you define where those people are, who they are, and talk to them?” It could be through one-on-one interviews or surveys, but trying to figure out where people’s minds are at and what they don’t understand at that point in their journey. It’s getting into those feelings, those emotions, and the functional needs that I mentioned before.

Once you’ve established where someone is in the system, then you make recommendations for the materials that they need to get them to hop up a level. Is that the next phase of your engagement?

Yeah. Typically, once you’ve talked to people, we can also get ideas out in front of people. I’m thinking of a specific example when I mentioned that. An arts organization that was having people getting stuck coming to their events, but not moving forward. One of the things we did with them is we prototyped some messaging. What we’re looking for is messaging that they could say before their events that reminded people of the bigger picture, and what we felt might be right for them at the time given the knowledge of the organization.

We put together a few different messages. One was about the history of the organization. One was more about how the organization fits into the broader world. Another one told a very personal story. I’m now guiding that nonprofit to interview people that fit into that point in their engagement path. Sharing these concepts with people and getting their reactions to them. Not saying, A, B or C is the right one, but hearing what they think when they’re saying those statements, and see if it’s the right motivation to then comment and say, “If you enjoyed this, we’d love to have you support the rest of what we do with a small donation.” Also, make sure that the reactions people are having feel like they’re going to lead people up to that.

It’s interesting and that’s data that can be pulled and essentially a list where you could pull out people who have been to an event but didn’t donate, and know that those people are at least potentially right in that sweet spot for a specific ask. You mentioned this in a LinkedIn post in terms of testing. I think that’s one of the places where most businesses, not just those in the nonprofit world, have a real opportunity that gets missed by not facilitating either A/B testing or some kind of testing where they’re seeing what works best and improving upon that messaging.

It feels like a missed opportunity. I can understand because I come from the for-profit world and people spend a lot of money on consumer testing. It can be very time-consuming, but what I love about just having a conversation with somebody or even new technology where you can do ABC testing and some easy to do surveys, you can do it affordably. It doesn’t have to be a big thorough deal to get some feedback. What I look for is how can we find some quicker, more nimble methods that allow nonprofits to work it into their work so that they’re not doing things the wrong way, and then find out they spent a bunch of money that way versus, spending a little bit of time ahead of it and figuring out the way that’s going to work.


RTNP 37 | Improve Engagement
Improve Engagement: Organizations have to go down a dual path to move both their traditional and virtual audience forward at the same time. This way, they can simplify the process and avoid doubling the work.


What are the mechanisms that you recommend for nonprofits? Most nonprofits are very cost-sensitive. What are some of the methodologies that you employ to help get that data, but keep the costs down?

As I said, a phone call and asking the right questions is something that a lot of nonprofits are already doing, except for the asking the right questions part. Going in, knowing what you want to know, and making sure you’re asking a lot of why’s for people is time-consuming but affordable. It doesn’t need to be everybody. You can do phone calls with a small number of people and start to get a pulse on what’s happening in people’s minds.

Using surveys like SurveyMonkey, you can put together very short questionnaires that you could put in your email blast or even pop into social media. In the same regard, asking questions on social media and getting people to respond just to one thing at a time. Surveys don’t have to be 25 questions and ask everyone’s demographics each time, but sometimes it can just be, “What did you remember most about our virtual program last week?”

Those kinds of things can help you get a sense of what caught people’s attention. If you’re curious about someone’s response, pull them out and say, “Do you mind if we had a ten-minute conversation so I could ask you more about that?” People love to give feedback. I was in the same line when I was looking for some of those statistics. I found a statistic that said 77% of brands are viewed more favorably if they invite customer feedback. That is for-profit but it is a great way to connect with your audiences. Ask for feedback. It doesn’t mean they’re directing your programs or changing your mission. You’re getting a sense of where people are at.

What I love about that and this is part of the way that we talk about marketing, is it’s just relationship building. Whenever you are in a relationship, usually the stronger relationships are two-way in terms of there’s a conversation that’s going on, questions are being asked, and there’s feedback. There’s genuine concern for and interest in what’s being said. People tend to think of marketing as, “This is where you get up on the soapbox and you start shouting your message.”

What’s neat about even just the survey piece, in general, is the first thing is it’s another touchpoint. If you think about relationships as interactions over time, that’s another interaction that you’ve added to that list. You’re building that relationship, and then it’s even strengthened further by the fact that you’re hopefully genuinely interested in somebody’s thoughts, feelings, and opinions about your organization, an event that you just had, or what have you. Asking those questions can go a very long way to reinforcing this relationship that you’re trying to create with that particular constituent.

That’s a great way to put it. It reminded me. I led a conversation about what is your audience thinking. We were talking about different ways you can listen to your audience and gather that feedback. I asked the group if they could reach into their customer’s brains and know anything they could about the organization. What would they want to know? I was shocked, but it stumped people. They didn’t know what they wanted to know about their audience or what to hear from them.

It did make me realize that we’re informing our audience. We’re inviting them to things or letting them know about things, but that engagement isn’t always looked at as that two-way street. What do people not only want to hear but what do they need to hear? People don’t just wake up and want to donate to an organization. They need to know what’s needed. They need some information to back that up and they also need some help getting there.

It’s not the first thing on their mind. They still have to get their kids to school, eat dinner, and do their own expertise in the work that they do. It’s sometimes hard to think about it as a two-way street, but it’s helpful. I say that because I think sometimes nonprofits feel like if they ask for feedback, it’s going to shift or change their work, or they’ll have to not do the work in the way that they think it is important.

How I look at it is you’re just getting a pulse for your audience and figuring out what they still need to know. You’re realizing they might not get all the nuts and bolts of the work that you do, how you’re going to local elected officials and convincing them to build more parks or whatever it might be. They don’t get all the intricacies of that so you have to hear where they’re at and their understanding of it. Also, give them that little bit of information so they can understand it more.

There’s a fear component to this that it’s almost ingrained in us as people is we don’t want to rock the boat necessarily. If we’re out there asking people’s opinions, then there’s this potential that it could disrupt that boat a little bit. In actuality, if we come at things from a position of authenticity, vulnerability, and trust, then we get that back and it’s not something that we have to be afraid of that is going to somehow disrupt this relationship that we’ve built. Actually, it has the ability to strengthen that.


Clear and effective communication leads to better understanding. It saves everyone from getting into conflicts when discussing controversial topics.


You need to know how people are perceiving your work. I was talking to someone about the term greenhouse gases. This person is a scientist who was very used to using that word with other scientists, He started to realize that in certain situations he was in and trying to advocate to the general public about the work they were doing, is that some people immediately had a negative connotation of that word because of what they heard on the news or in politics. To take a step back and talk about what that means, the long-term effects and rising heat or more storms. Talking about that first and then mentioning that those were greenhouse gases. It helped lead the person to better understand his work in a way that didn’t immediately get into that controversy.

It’s funny how language can get politicized and completely innocuous terms can become very polarizing. I love getting back to this idea of testing. You can try things against your list where even if you just split test a headline, you can see if there’s a measurable difference in the way that people react to that. You can do that in a non-destructive way where you get happy with either one. You can even test a fraction of your audience if you have a big enough sample size and get data out of it that’s relevant.

It’s a great way of doing things. Going back to your discussion about fear, it’s tough for nonprofits because they do have so much funding that comes from sources that are keeping track. I think there is a lot of fear around being very careful with funding and money. I feel like sometimes testing in the nonprofit world can be viewed as potential for error or pretentious to make mistakes. If you sit down and look at it, if you don’t test, you could make a big mistake. If you can do these smaller tests, it certainly doesn’t exempt you from mistakes but you make less of them and make more impact and change.

That’s what it’s all about. It’s expanding that mission. Let’s say you have a landing page for donations and that’s converting at 10%. You can then come up with a new concept and push some percentage of your traffic to the new concept. You’re still going to theoretically convert at 10% on the original concept, but if that new one converts at 15%, now you want to put all your traffic towards the new one. You didn’t have that idea even prior to that.

What’s so great about digital media and digital marketing is that we can make those changes and change things back immediately without a lot of costs associated with making those small adjustments. I would encourage nonprofits and everyone out there to be aware of that opportunity and be able to run a test even for a few days. If you have enough traffic and impressions, then you should be able to get some kind of science-based data out of it that helps you grow and move in the right direction.

It’s good to do that with things that you do more frequently, like asking for donations versus maybe testing your big gala or a Giving Tuesday campaign. You can use that information when you do those bigger events to figure out what it was about that messaging that did work and apply that to everything that you do.

2020 has been particularly challenging for nonprofits. What are some of the things you’ve seen, the changes that people have made that have worked well?

2020 offered a lot of opportunities to reach out to people because there was such a loss of connection. Nonprofits are changing their events around and a lot of in-person interactions were gone. I saw some great things were just even doing some check-in calls with their audience, making sure they’re okay, and getting a sense of what’s on their mind. Because we’re all in the same ocean but on different ships, having these very different journeys during the pandemic. I have a child at home.

My life has been turned around in a very different way than my friends without kids. They’ve got to fill all their time. I say to do some phone calls and check-ins. Seeing how different people’s concerns have shifted over the pandemic. I also coach an organization that did a mailing campaign. They had an older audience and a lot of them were not able to shift to the virtual programming that they were doing.

They reached out by old-fashioned mail and put a mailer out that had a questionnaire that people could send back. It was an easy checklist. Like, “Do you want us to give you a call? Do you want to lay low until next year?” It’s like a what do you need from us checklist, along with a little blank space for people to comment. That was a nice way for them to connect with people that otherwise they probably still wouldn’t have heard from. Thinking and going outside of your normal ways of communication helped in the last year.

That was a great understanding of the audience where that organization that you just mentioned had an audience that was perhaps a little less tech-savvy and digitally connected, to be able to recognize that there was an opportunity here to reach them in a completely different way. Going back to some kind of older style of communication that was going to work well for the audience. Keeping one’s mind on the audience is super important.


RTNP 37 | Improve Engagement
Improve Engagement: If you don’t figure out who supports your organization the most, it will be hard to get their opinion and understand where they are at.


We tend to get in our own little space, our bubbles, and think, “This is the most economical or this is the way that I would want to be reached.” It’s important to take a step back and remember that we may not be our own ideal stakeholders. We may fall outside of the ways that those people would like to be engaged with.

I see that a lot. People might’ve read some statistics and assumed that no one over 65 is on Facebook or using email and that’s not true. It’s less of a percentage. To understand where your audience is is important. I think the idea of switching up the communication helps keep people out of a rut. Everyone at some point is going to get too many emails. How do you look at reaching out to people in a different way? It’s this mix of like, “What are your audience’s habits, but also how do you keep it fresh so that you stand out in their sea of communication from others?”

I love that idea, that concept of keeping it fresh because I have found that not just recently, but over the last year, people have started to get Zoom fatigue. I’ve started going back to regular phone calls, which is essentially the same thing, except for maybe you can wander around a little bit more. At least in my mind, it is a lot more refreshing just to have something a little bit different so I’m not stuck in a single spot. I can have a little bit of freedom that perhaps that new great technology doesn’t afford.

Sometimes when we run out of ideas, we can go back to the old ones.

We can go back to what worked before.

Just keep switching it around.

What kinds of nonprofits do you work with typically? Do you have a certain sector of the nonprofit space that you’d like to work with or a size? What’s your jam?

I tend to work with smaller nonprofits. I’m definitely a lover of underdogs and helping elevate them into the minds of people, what their work is. Because of the work that I do, I tend to focus on organizations that are trying to engage the general public. They might not exclusively work with the general public, but it tends to be museums, arts and culture, advocacy work, and people that are fighting for causes that need volunteers, advocates, and support from a wider audience.

That sounds like a lot of fun. A lot of those types of organizations have been challenged in the last year, particularly the in-person entities like museums.

Museums have had a lot of difficulties, but I’ve seen some great work through programming and Twitter campaigns where they have done a great job of advocating for people. It’s still a big upward struggle for visitor-based organizations. 2021 is going to be an interesting time for them because they do have to bridge the virtual audience that might be different from who they’ve engaged in the past. How do they keep them engaged, but then also, bring back the “old audience” that loves to visit? Now, I’ve been guiding nonprofits to think more about a dual path and how can they figure out how to move both of those groups forward and simplify it as much as possible so it’s not double the work.

Yeah, it’s interesting. I was trying to come up with some ideas around museums. There are very few things that will replace that experience of being in front of a famous beautiful painting, sculpture, car, or whatever kind of museum you like to go to. It’d be interesting to see how to scale and create opportunities for virtual tours that then once you’ve created that material once, you could scale that.


If non-profits avoid doing smaller tests, they are more prone to committing mistakes. Do them more often, save yourself from errors, and make more impact.


You could do a timed walkthrough of the museum to hit very specific parts of that museum that somebody wanted to tour, and then leverage that material that you created for sort of a one-off that you could then just create this reservoir of virtual tours of the museum in some fashion. It’s something that popped into my mind that might be an opportunity for those types of nonprofits to be able to get people re-engaged.

What I’ve found so cool is that now there are fewer limitations in the virtual idea, the virtual world. You can do behind-the-scenes tours that you would never get in person or get the actual scientists that worked on these fossils to tell you about them. I think there are some cool opportunities and new experiences that people can have. The Field Museum is here in Chicago and they had Jane Goodall come to one of their virtual fundraisers. I thought, “How cool is that?” You never get to see her in person but to have that accessibility of virtual format.

When I think about an engagement path for these new virtual audiences that organizations have, the new frontier is going to be, “How do you engage them beyond the events and the tours? What’s that next level, and do you start to have virtual advisory boards or virtual dinners with larger donations?” Ways that those same people can still go through that higher engagement process without having to fly out to meet you, and open yourself up to more people who are unable to come to or they’re not physically able to meet you.

There are certainly a lot of opportunities that have been opened up by everybody being forced into this virtual space. Some of the creativity that we’ve seen over the past year or so in terms of thinking out of the box like, “It’d be fantastic to be able to have dinner with Jane Goodall sitting in a room together, but we can’t do that right now. In the absence of that, we can share that kind of experience. We can create that in a different way.”

It’s cool to have the opportunity to brainstorm some new ways of interacting. I certainly think that it doesn’t replace that in-person that most of us are missing but it does open up some additional opportunities. In fact, there may be people who don’t enjoy the in-person but would engage with a virtual type that was scalable in that fashion.

I must say with 2 feet of snow outside and single-digit temperatures, there are some virtual elements that I appreciate. It will be interesting to see as in-person things come back. The virtual elements don’t replace in-person, but in the last year, there hasn’t been an in-person competition. There are no other things that people can go to that are more engaging. It’ll be interesting to see and be thinking through as you do virtual events over the next year is when are you going to start competing with in-person events? Weighing what audience is appreciating the virtual event because they’re unable to attend an in-person event versus how many people are going to prefer that in-person event exclusively.

I think that those two things can certainly live together. It’s going to be interesting to think about the music industry as an example of an industry that has been hit pretty hard given that you can’t have concerts. They’ve done some interesting things in the virtual space. Certainly, we want to bring people back into clubs and venues to watch live music again. The fact that they’ve been creative and have managed to make interesting experiences happen can bring people from all over the world into these events, as opposed to people who happen to be in Chicago on a specific day or can get to Chicago on a specific day to see a show. It opens up that audience a lot broader.

It’s interesting that you bring music. My husband is a musician so we’ve definitely lamented a lot on the music industry over the past year. It makes me think, “When is anyone going to be comfortable being sweaty and in a room full of people even once it’s safe?” Those complex questions like, “What do I do when I know there are these good and bad things about virtual and in-person?”

This is where you’re listening to your audience and knowing who your audience is, especially the ones that will most help you reach your goals because I think it is really easy to say that your audience is everybody. Anyone is able to care about the work that you do, but ultimately if you don’t figure out who most supports your organization and how you recognize them, it will be very hard to get their opinion and understand where they are at so you can make those important decisions.

A great topic for discussion is the idea of differentiation and specification. You don’t want to alienate people, but you also want to become as attractive as possible to those people that are going to be most excited about what you’re doing. Many organizations try and cast a wide net. There’s an interesting exercise that you can run on Facebook where you do get your ad to a place good enough. You then cast your net widely and leverage the data that comes out of that to see who responded to that specific messaging.

One of the things that’s nice about that is it is data collection that enables you to tease out who that ideal audience was for that particular message. You can then spend more on going after that ideal audience. You can take that approach and flip it on its head, but at the end of the day, it’s all about figuring out who is that ideal stakeholder for your organization, and making sure that you’re getting in front of them with the right message at the right time so that you can expand your mission.


RTNP 37 | Improve Engagement
Improve Engagement: If you try to message everybody, you will just be ignored by everybody. When sending out emails, make sure at least one group is a target in there.


I don’t know what it is about human nature, but I feel like it’s one of the hardest things for us to do. I have difficulty with it as well as how do we not try to focus on everybody. How do we not try to reach everybody? It does feel like you’re leaving people out. I posted about this recently where I was using the analogy of a puzzle. I had this very complicated puzzle that I was doing. It was 2,000 pieces so that’s above my level. It was hard. It was this landscape and the way I got through it was I started to sort out the pieces. I put things that looked like the sky in one bucket and then things that looked like the ground in another bucket.

It wasn’t until I did it that I could start to see, “That pink is slightly different than this pink in the sky.” I could sort those pieces and then see the differences between them. This analogy for me is that the more you were able to focus, the more things you see within that group. I think the same about an audience is if you can start to define a group, and I don’t like the idea of defining by age or ZIP code or some of the demographics that we typically use, but defining people by what makes sense for your organization.

It might be people who come to certain types of programs or people that donate over a certain amount and separate people by their behaviors. You can take a look at that group and talk to them, gather feedback from that group, and get to know the intricacies in that group because everyone’s an individual and we separate into it. What you’re trying to do is get people into enough separation so that they’re getting the information they want and need to care more about your organization.

I think that the fear is missing out. “This person is willing to engage with me or this audience might be interested in what I have to say.” There’s a fear of missing out, but if you think about your existing stakeholder base, you have donors, volunteers, and people who go to events, etc. Let’s say you attach a dollar figure to each email that you have to send out. Wouldn’t you like to segment that audience to send emails specifically to the event-type people, if you were having an event?

If you have a finite budget and are wanting to make that spend go as far as possible, as opposed to spending more on the whole list, or perhaps getting the wrong email into the wrong person’s hands. That’s what that differentiation piece is all about, trying to figure out ways, common motivations, and interests that you can then fine-tune that message to perform as well as it possibly can for that specific audience.

For those that are afraid of not sending that to everybody, I tend to advise, “You can send it to everybody, but make sure it’s targeted to some group within there.” I use the example of if you think about the last pair of shoes you bought, no one said, “These are great shoes.” They either talked about how rugged, stylish, and comfy they are or how easily you can wash them. There was something about it that caught your eye. If you try to message everybody, it’s going to be ignored by everybody. If you’re going to send out that email about your event to everybody, make sure at least one group is targeted there to tell them about how awesome the guest list is for this event or the topics you’re going to talk about that they’re going to care most about.

I love that approach. It’s like creating a pair of shoes that’s going to work for everybody. At some point, they’re going to be so bland and uncomfortable for everyone because somebody has flat feet and somebody has wide feet. All of a sudden your shoe is essentially a bucket and no one wants to wear that.

It’s like the one size all approach. It’s not how it works.

I love that idea.

In talking about this too, I had an example I wanted to share for a museum that I worked for. They wanted to understand their most passionate supporters and how people have got to be there. It was interesting. This organization had gone through a lot of growth the year before I interviewed people. They were growing leaps and bounds with new members. As I talked to these stronger supporters, we started to realize that they felt like the organization was veering from its mission. That they weren’t authentic anymore and they weren’t doing things the way they used to be done.

It wasn’t true. This organization had great research going on, traveling the world and sharing their knowledge. Because everyone was getting the same information and it was being targeted to this new audience that was more excited about the Valentine Chocolate Event, the things that were for kids, and these ideas that grab new people in, this more engaged audience felt left out.


The more you can focus, the more things you see.


That is an example of why you can’t just message to everybody because then if you take these people who had been involved with your organization for 15, 20 years and all of a sudden they’re feeling left out, that is such an opportunity to separate that group and start messaging them with, “Look at this research we’re doing. Look at the impact we’re making in Europe and Africa,” and some cool stuff. You have a group that cares about that and you get to share it but the wider audience would totally be over their heads. It helps to figure out where those lines are drawn so that you can get people the information they need to keep carrying.

I think that’s a sound insight. It’s not that you have to be excluded, but you’re just trying to bring those people who are passionate about a certain thing. You give them something to continue to be passionate about. It’s a good way of approaching it.

People are complicated, but there are those ways we can start to understand them and help them along the journey.

How can people find out more about you or get connected with you if they’re interested in some nonprofit coaching or they have a little bit of a lackluster audience that they want to engage?

They can always go to teenyBIG.com and on the bottom part of my homepage, I have an assessment tool where you can test and see how well you are guiding your audience and get a sense of the methods and things that you’re using, like where you stand. Through that, I have some different resources that people can access in order to better understand their audience.

I encourage everyone to go check it out and see how they fall in the continuum of guiding their audience to action. I also love to end my shows with the idea of action. If you were to have people who’ve read this take some kind of action after reading, what would you have them do?

I like to ask people to think about their audience engagement as a path. We’ve been talking about that this whole time, but when you look at your actual behaviors, a lot of times, nonprofits will treat engagement as an interaction, a single point. I would love for you to look, at each interaction point, what do you want someone to do next? Think about how you can guide them there because then you’ll start to see it as a journey and allow people to move up that mountain, up that ladder towards the goals that you want them to achieve.

That’s a great thing for people to consider, and it is a journey. Even at the end of that, after they’ve taken that action that you’re trying to guide them towards, there’s an opportunity to give them the next place to go. We can always keep our audiences better engaged and I love your approach to that.

Thank you.

Thank you so much for being on the show, Emily. I had a great time talking with you and learning more about your approach and hearing how things are going.

It was great to talk to you and hear your ideas. I had a great time.

There you have it. It’s another great episode of the show. Thanks for reading. If you would like to learn more about how to apply the audience engagement cycle to expand your organization’s mission, there are two things you can do. You can go to MissionUncomfortableBook.com to download a copy of my book. While you’re there, you can get your Purpose-Driven Marketing Score to see where you can unearth some gold for your organization. If you’d like to read back episodes of the show or sign up to be a guest, go to RelishStudio.com/podcast. That’s it. I’ll be back next time for another great episode of the show.


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About Emily Taylor

RTNP 37 | Improve EngagementEmily Taylor, the principal of teenyBIG, is an expert listener who 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, turning lackluster followers into enthusiastic supporters.

Emily steers organizations to evaluate the experience of their end-user through strategic listening and engagement mapping. She also designs and facilitates workshops to help teams understand and expand the user experience and offers coaching packages to further guide that process.

Emily’s approach in this area is based on her background as an Executive Director, consulting for a diverse range of nonprofit clients, and audience research using human-centered design. In the private and nonprofit sectors, she has helped teams better understand what makes their audience act on everything from healthcare to sustainability advocacy to the arts. She has a bachelor’s degree in industrial design from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, serves on the Nonprofit Relations Committee at the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits, and is a community member of her local Chicago Public School.