TRG blog: Young Friends, Lifelong Patrons?
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Young Friends, Lifelong Patrons?

Rick Lester | April 26, 2011 10:46 AM
To hear some of my fellow Boomers talk, getting young adults engaged in arts and culture is an urgent problem that requires a big solution.

We beg to differ.

Consumer research and our own studies on generational differences in patron behavior point to huge opportunities, not problems. What we are finding are some eye-opening considerations that reiterate an age-old best practice. Assume nothing.

Without the facts about who is in your audience or among your donors, it’s easy to guess wrong – especially when it comes to developing young patrons. As an age cohort, the under-30 population we’re calling Gen Y is replacing the Boomers as the largest generation in American consumer history. The spending habits of this young adult group are causing many industries to sit up and take notice.

So, consider a key finding of our pilot generational study. We examined donor transactions of some 51,300 individual donors who gave $75.6 million to the organizations in our study group during the 2009-10 season. We reported on this study at the March Arts Reach conference and our webinar last week called Developing the Generations.

Donors under age 30, while small in number, gave more generously per household than patrons who were a generation older. Gen Y represented only 2% of donor households and 1% of contributed revenue in our pilot study group. But, the average size of their gift was almost $900. Among the next older generation of donors – Gen X patrons who are 30 to mid-forties -- the average household gift was $150 less -- $747.

Older donors are undeniably important. In our pilot study, they gave 91% of the revenue and pushed the median household gift to just above $1,200. For the next decade or so, Baby Boomers and their elders will sustain arts and culture in America. Then what? That is the question.

It is the presence now and potential lifetime value of younger donors that we see as significant and potentially transformational – IF the distinct set of generational attributes of younger patrons is recognized. Respect under-30 patrons’ huge numbers, their unsurpassed tech savvy and ability to take in vast amounts of information. Accept their expectation of telling us what they think, what they want and when, where, and how they want it!

Realize too that the other group of young patrons, Gen X, deserves attention. In the U.S. population, their numbers are smaller than Gen Y and the Boomers. In our study, Gen X represented 15% of all donors. They give, and their approach to giving is very different. Donors of Gen X are more individualistic, highly skeptical and hard-to-sell but can be deeply loyal once sold. Young Friends groups comprised of Gen Xers will require a different set of criteria than will programs for under-30 prospects.

The bottom line is this: Getting the facts and getting to know your patron population is the only way to assure the success of “Young Friends” or other programs designed to attract specific patron age groups.

Database and transactional analysis can describe the size and scope of opportunity each generation represents for your organization. Analysis also can identify Young Friends prospects. Find out who they are and how you can cultivate and maintain a relationship with them on their terms.

The upside of making investments in these programs is that today’s Young Friends have three or more decades of patronage ahead of them. That is a staggering amount of potentially sustaining loyalty, patronage, and revenue.

Want to join an upcoming webinar on this subject? Leave a comment or .


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