The term “engagement” commonly refers to social media metrics, which show us when people are “engaging” with content by liking, sharing, or clicking through it. But audience engagement means much more. Your organization engages audiences in all kinds of ways, online and offline, through communications, fundraising, programs, and more. 

Engagement is about action. To achieve impact, you need to engage people in ways that motivate them to take actions you need them to take: Signing up for a program. Buying a product. Donating money. Volunteering their time. Contributing their ideas. Whatever you need people to do.

Studies show that meaningful engagement leads to “durable” attitude and behavior change. 

People find meaning in many different ways, but most of us are more likely to take actions that reflect our aspirations and help us be the kinds of people we want to be. Connecting with people’s aspirations moves them from awareness to action—and keeps them coming back. 

To make engagement meaningful, start by addressing a few key questions about your audience:

The Hattaway team conducted audience engagement research to build a dataset and toolkit that help organizations of all kinds engage people in meaningful ways that lead to measurable outcomes. 

The rest of this post shares a few insights from our research and strategic questions for you to consider in shaping your audience engagement strategy.

Research insights and strategic questions for your audience engagement srategy

Aspirations. Our aspirations are our ideas about the kind of people we want to be and the world we want to live in. We’re more likely to pay attention, think about, and take action when we see communications that reflect our aspirations. People have all kinds of aspirations that might motivate them to take action for your cause. Here are a few examples:

Help people in need

Be a person others look up to

Feel like part of a community

Improve myself and be the best person I can be

Make a positive difference in the world

Stand up for what I believe in

Take on issues I've seen in my community or experienced in my personal life

Key Question: How does your organization help people realize their aspirations?

Experiences. The experiences people have when they interact with your organization are a big part of the value you deliver to them. People who have meaningful experiences are more likely to come back for more, allowing you to cultivate long-term relationships with people who will actually take action. Different people want different kinds of experiences, as shown in the list below:

Have fun

Feel like part of a community

Create things

Meet new people who are different from me

Get friends and family together 

Spend my money in ways that reflect my values

Receive gifts or benefits

Key Question: What kinds of experiences can people have with your organization?

Actions. For audience engagment to be strategic, you need people to take specific actions that contribute to increasing your reach, resources, and impact. The most impactful audience engagement strategies find the sweet spot of actions you need people to take and actions they want to take. Different peeople like to take different kinds of actions, here are a few examples, categorized by Individual actions and Influential actions: 


Volunteer time and talents

Donate money

Participate in events 

Purchase an item

Sign a petition



Organize others to volunteer, donate and participate

Create social media content 

Share information and ideas 

Contact a government official or community leader

Call a radio show, write a letter to the editor, comment online

Speak at an event

None of these questions has one answer. Your audience is made up of people with different motivations and mindsets. For maximum reach and response, you’ll want to identify different audience segments and tailor engagement to match their interests.