26.Aug.2020

Colleen O'Grady
Philanthropic Strategist

Inspirational Improvisations in the Era of COVID-19

Transitions from “Digital-First” to “Digital-Only”

In the era of COVID-19, we’ve all watched the landscape we work in change overnight—and then change again. March 2020 saw a massive migration of audiences from the typical venues where they once connected with you (on your campus, packing the rows of your theaters, in the face-to-face engagements that are the backbone of fundraising). Now, they’ve adapted to a host of different platforms (Twitter, for instance, which saw its largest-ever increase in daily users in Spring 2020).

Not only have your audiences been physically distant from you and from one another, but they’ve also experienced a dramatic shift in their need for sound information, emotional sustenance, and levity. Responding and adapting in this era calls for tremendous creativity and improvisation. We’ve gathered here some examples of impressive pivots—communications initiatives that allowed nonprofits, colleges, and universities to sustain and even deepen connections with audiences, despite the challenges of the moment.

  1. The Morton Arboretum sent out a virtual bloom report that supplied a dose of beauty and reminded audiences that while visits were impossible, the work of the Arboretum went on. We loved getting this breath of fresh air in the middle of an otherwise stressful and anxiety-packed day.
  2. Toronto Public Library shared stories about libraries being repurposed as temporary distribution hubs for food banks. Transparency like this reminds audiences that organizations can be also affected by outside circumstances—and that we always have a choice about how we respond.
  3. The Getty Museum challenged audiences sheltering at home to recreate works of art with items found around the house—and suggested the hashtag #betweenartandquarantine to make the delightful results discoverable. One takeaway: a new appreciation for the process of making art within creative constraints.
  4. Steppenwolf Theater began releasing Half Hour, a podcast featuring ensemble members—presumably with more time on their hands than usual—in free-flowing conversation about their work.
  5. University of Chicago used its already-established podcast, Big Brains, to share COVID-19-related insights from affiliated researchers, reinforcing its reputation as a generator of knowledge the world needs.
  6. The Juilliard School alerted audiences to a month-long series of daily performances of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations by harpsichordist and alum Aya Hamada.
  7. The University of Vermont shared varied and timely content on Twitter, including a video collage of relaxing greenhouse scenes, a shot of the supermoon, and news of an emergency ventilator developed on campus.

My colleague, Michi Gupta and I discussed these themes and more on September 10 during a live webinar. We’re excited to be able to share a recording with you below!

Webinar Originally Recorded September 10, 2020