A four step plan to engage younger patrons
Every organization needs a plan for their board members and major donors of the future. If engaging young professionals ages 25 to 35 is integral to your organization’s objectives, here are four tips that other young professional groups for arts organizations that I have worked with have found helpful.
- Project a inviting welcome
From the outside looking in, arts organizations can sometimes appear to have a “clique-y”-culture that would ignore new members unless they have the proper pedigree. Often, the ideal candidates for young professional art groups are shy to come forward thinking that they won’t “belong” if they can’t name the artist, converse in a detail about the composer’s work, quote Shakespeare, or be able to contribute more than $1,000.
To aid in your mission of engaging young professionals, help discredit these myths by including messages in your young professional outreach communications that you are 1) actively looking for young professionals with enthusiasm and commitment to join and benefit from the organization, and 2) getting involved is a great way to learn about artists, composers, playwrights, and more to deepen and broaden their understanding of why art, music and theater have captivated audiences. And as a bonus they will meet and mingle with peers who share those interests.
- Focus events on engaging curiosity and building relationships
Social events are a welcoming way to encourage new young professionals to get to know your organization. It’s easy to become so distracted by making the event “fun” that we can forget to focus on how to expose the attendees to the art and help them build relationships with existing members. A successful event gives your guests an opportunity to become familiar with the art as well as build relationships with other members of the organization. This means they can actually have a conversation without yelling over the DJ’s music and they truly have an introduction to the art they can see paintings in the exhibit, hear an excerpt from the upcoming concert, or listen to a few lines from a compelling scene. Remember, you don’t just want them to come through your doors; you also want them to understand who you are and what you’re about.
- See the long term potential of Young Professionals
View your young professionals as the foundation for your future organizational leaders and large donors. The critical element in laying that foundation is first building a bond between the young professionals and your organization. Donations will only follow when a bond has been solidified.
Once a bond has been made, requests for contributions should fit in to their lifestyles and their budgets. Donating online, by credit card and at smaller amounts on a periodic basis (e.g. monthly) can help a young professional develop the habit of giving and make the donation budget friendly. Then, as their financial resources grow, they will be in a better position to increase the giving amount. For example a twenty-something starting with $25 monthly donations (i.e. $300 annual giving) can easily grow into a thirty-something making $100 monthly donations (i.e. $1,200 annual giving) and later into a major donor.
- Ask board members or corporate sponsors to help identify young professionals in their organizations
Many corporations, especially professional service firms, require young professionals to include civic involvement in their yearly goals. Young professionals often don’t know how to approach finding civic leadership roles. Board members or corporate marketing departments can act as ambassadors helping arts organizations to identify candidates and also guide the candidates in what to expect and create an understanding of the benefits associated with participating in a young professional leadership group. This will also help deepen the support for your organization at that the participating corporation, possibly ensuring an inside advocate for annual contributions as those young professionals move along their career path.