Audience Development as DEI Initiative: A Beneficial Loop

Every business and nonprofit wants to grow their audience. But, what if audience growth could do more than just increase sales or donations or attendance? Approaching audience development as a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) initiative can bring great benefits in terms of both audience development and organizational culture.

Guiding Questions

These questions are central to creating both DEIB initiatives and key to sustainable audience development. By beginning your planning here, you’ll ensure that DEIB is baked into your audience strategy and vice versa.

  1. Who is missing from your audience and your office? Are the same people missing from both spaces?
    1. Hint – The answer will be more useful if you think broadly, rather than focusing on only race or economic class. If your office and/or audience roughly mirrors the demographics of your community, then you’re starting from a very good place.
  2. Why are they missing?
    • Hint – The answer is never that an entire demographic category of people are not interested in what you have to offer.
    • Bonus Hint – Input directly from the missing group will be very useful in answering this question well.
  3. How do we invite them in?
    • Hint – DEIB-focused hiring and promotional practices are an art form unto themselves. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
    • Bonus Hint – Do not attempt to answer this question without input from the missing group.
  4. How do we welcome, nurture, and retain them?
    • Hint – There is a WORLD of literature on this topic. Use it to consult some professionals when answering this question.
    • Bonus Hint – Everyone needs to feel normal, so making sure that new types of people come in groups rather than being the only one in the room makes a huge difference.

The answers to these questions will give you a much clearer understanding of your needs and likely form the beginning of a plan. Maybe you realize that your attempts to entice people in their 20s would be helped by having some people in that age group on staff. Or maybe you realize that the POC in your audience tend to only show up once, since they feel singled out by virtue of there being so few of them. Insightful, even uncomfortable answers to the questions above will get you started from a place of strength.

Building the Loop

If you design your audience building program as a DEIB initiative and keep the focus on including and welcoming new people, you will be set up for success. Welcoming new audience members deliberately is a great way to keep them engaged and retain them.

Here are some ways to put that success to good use:

  1. DEIB is a habit – build it. Once you start asking the guiding questions to build one program, you may start asking the same questions about other programs and aspects of your work. With some strategic leadership, your whole organization can get in the habit of keeping DEIB top of mind.
  2. DEIB works in all directions. A DEIB mindset is a powerful tool for success, so why only point it outwards? Applying principles of diversity and inclusiveness to internal operations and hiring can have a significant positive impact on workplace culture, the variety and quality of ideas generated, and overall health of an organization.
  3. Representation means alignment. Is the makeup of your staff and leadership roughly representative of the makeup of your community? Is the makeup of your audience? Is the demographic you’d like to grow in well-represented on staff and in leadership? When you can answer yes to all or most of those questions, then you will find that your organization is aligned with your audience. Alignment between audience and staff/leadership means being able to effectively navigate nuances of cultural communication styles. That means that you know how to talk to them effectively, keep them engaged, and turn them into advocates.

TL;DR – Inclusion means growth and success, do it.

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