by Elyssa Jechow
Generation Y (Gen Y) – Millenials, born between 1981 and 2001 – is, as I recently learned, also commonly referred to as Generation Me. Matchstick Strategies says that five important characteristics of Gen Y are: tech savvy, ambitious, fickle, communicators, and impatient.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was appalled that my own generation had been bluntly dubbed as self-centric. I mean, we’ve basically grown up during one of the most rapid periods of change in all of history – we’re going to be a little different, right? So I started searching, and I found this little gem.
“We’re disrupting traditional models simply because that makes sense.” (Burstein, Fast Company)
This is where a shift in gears, making an arts discussion relevant, is appropriate. Over the past few years, arts organizations in America have seen a decline in patrons across the boards. The immediate conclusion one might draw is that people just don’t have the money; our country is in a recession. But what about that statement above from Mr. Burstein? Another major factor I might throw out there is that arts organizations are struggling with how to cope with a decline in big dollar donations, and with a seemingly self-centered young adult audience. However, given the amount of change that we have seen in the past few decades, are organizations merely overlooking the fact that they too must adapt?
Target Research Group (TRG Arts), a respected arts and marketing consulting group, has recently conducted some compelling research on this matter. In a nutshell, their findings indicate that of Gen Y (which, by the way, makes up twenty five percent of the population), ninety three percent gave to non-profits in the past year. Astounding. But think about it. Most of those under the age of thirty who are giving are not writing million dollar checks. In fact, of that ninety three percent who gave, fifty eight percent said their largest donation was $150. Times are changing.
I have met plenty of arts administrators who are still frustrated with the fact that they’re having trouble continuing to attract the dreamed-about big dollar donations, but I think that maybe we need to come back down to reality and focus our efforts a bit more where they are going to start mattering the most. How do we begin to attract and leverage this newly-of-age generation of enthusiastic (yes, we really are) donors and patrons?
If we dig a little deeper, we find out a little bit more about this shifting demographic of givers. TRG found that as donors, Gen Y’ers receive vast amounts of information, have a short attention span (which means that we are probably less loyal than say, a Baby Boomer), are interested in volunteering and being involved, are also interested in spreading the word, and make decisions about who to donate to based on emotion.
In the coming weeks and through a series of articles, I would like to propose that arts organizations not write off Generation Y because we are the so-called “Generation Me.” I would like to see more organizations learn how putting in the effort and getting to know the group better might be combined with the research about Gen Y as givers. Arts organizations have gotten comfortable with tried and true strategies for attracting donors and patrons, but it might just be time to shake things up a bit.
Articles of Related Interest from The Muse Dialogue
“A Question of Arts Survival?” by Andrew Swensen