Millennials in Nonprofit Fundraising for the Arts: Eager and Underrepresented

Millennials and arts leaders from all over the country joined in the recent TweetChat #MillennialDonorsAU (Oct 24, 2012 at 5:40 EDT) to share their thoughts and ideas on Millennial donors in the arts.

We addressed four main areas – the Millennial generation defined, current impact of Millennial donors in the arts, future impact, and strategies for arts organizations to incorporate and grow their Millennial donor base – and other relevant questions and ideas.

The following reflection serves to provide insight into the role of Millennial donors in the arts, to highlight some of the arts-relevant and distinctive features of this empowered generation, inspire arts managers to better understand and respond to Millennial giving in the arts, and to build Millennial engagement within and between arts organizations.

Q1: How do you define Millennials? #MillennialDonorsAU

While I have been focusing on a more specific definition for my research (using the Pew Research definition, Millennials are those born beginning in the early 1980′s, currently ranging from 18-29 years old), participants in the chat tended to refer to Millennials in a more conceptual way.  Courtney Harge, Founder & Artistic Director of Colloquy Collective in Brooklyn, NY, as well as Ally Yusuf, marketing professional and founder and moderator of #ArtsMgtChat, both answered in this way.

A1: @Arts_Courtney I define it as a mindset. I’ve seen Millennials act like Baby Boomers, particularly in the nonprofit field.

@AllyYusuf_ My definition of Millennials: ambitious, innovative, want to make the world a better place.

Q2: How are Millennials making an impact in your org? #MillennialDonorsAU

Answered ranged from donation of time & money, to their participation as arts ambassadors, as well as coming to the table with fewer obligations, and their potential as a source of future funding (i.e. wealth transfer and population size). Some of the most powerful responses, in my opinion, came from Courtney Harge and Violet Morris, a fellow arts management graduate student at American University who was engaging in the TweetChat during our in-person presentation. (This was encouraged, of course!)

A2: @Arts_Courtney Refusing (rightfully) to wait their turn. Being present and a force to reckon with.

@violet_dc Payoff might not be immediate – but get them in the door.

Q3: How can arts organizations include Millennials? Why? #MillennialDonorsAU

Johnny Kolasinski, marketing manager for City Lights Theater Company in San Jose, CA, set the tone for the conversation around the incorporation of Millennial donors in arts organizations. Steven Dawson, fellow classmate and Executive Chair of Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium at AU, added to these ideas emphasizing consistent, wholehearted initiatives to incorporate Millennials.

A3: @cycloptiko Reach out and include them in the work artistically and organizationally…Provide opportunities for growth within org – so Millennials don’t have to jump ship to advance.

@ArtsmanSteven You can’t nurture them in one aspect, and then ignore them in another. They notice.

Co-Host of the discussion, Raynel Frazier, and EALS Executive Committee member, emphasized the importance and influence of technology:

@EALSAU Engage Millennials on social outlets! …organizations should use technology wisely in order to reach Millennials.

Q4: What do you think we can look forward to in the future of Millennial giving? #MillennialDonorsAU

TweetChat participants suggested a variety of examples – from arts ambassador programs and young professionals groups, to dynamic giving models and greater opportunities for collaborative and collective giving.

Attempting to point to the importance of having a long-range vision with Millennial donors, I tweeted: “Patience is a virtue! Approach with long-term (relationship focused) mindset.”

I remained curious about Millennial fundraising initiatives already underway and ideas for moving forward and decided to pose an additional question.

Q5: Are your orgs reaching out to Millennial donors? How? #MillennialDonorsAU

We addressed the more upfront nature of Millennials (generally forthcoming about what they can and can’t give, which has the potential to make gift solicitation an easier task), organizational tolerance for “risk,”and the ability to balance stewardship of current donors and cultivating new, Millennial donors.

Kolasinski made a particularly gripping comment and addressed the idea among the group: “We’re underrepresented. How many devo depts have a Millennial anywhere NEAR the front lines?”

Others seemed to be in agreement with this identified deficiency among arts organizations and the conversation shifted to the need for greater engagement – establishing opportunities for critical involvement internally, professionally, and with fresh programs, to increase giving online, and to build peer relationships between and among the leadership and fellow patrons of the arts organization.  Addressing the importance of presenting multiple giving options for short- and long-term impact brought the TweetChat to a meaningful and thought-provoking close.

Within days of the chat, it was determined that the #MillennialDonorsAU TweetChat – according to a report generated via – managed to reach 2,050 Twitter accounts (overall no. of ppl who received Tweets) and made 11,012 impressions (no. of times the hashtag appeared on Twitter timelines)!!

Emerging arts leaders are thinking about the Millennial generation and it is my hope that we will begin to see a positive shift in the representation of Millennials as volunteers, advocates, employees, patrons, and prospective donors among 21st century, U.S. arts organizations!

Suggested Reading:

I welcome your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions! Please feel free to share your stories and experiences in the arts and any advice you would like to offer. Thanks for stopping by and stay tuned for additional posts on Millennials in the arts!


The Millennials’ Orchestra: Engaging Younger Symphony Audiences and Donors in the Classical Music Experience

The Millennials’ Orchestra: Engaging Younger Symphony Audiences and Donors in the Classical Music Experience

Millennial generation – “Generations, like people, have personalities, and Millennials – the American teens and twenty-somethings (ages 18-29) who are making the passage into adulthood at the start of a new millennium – have begun to forge theirs: confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.”[1]

YouTube Symphony Orchestra
Sydney, Australia 2011

It is no secret that symphony orchestras are facing hard and changing times.  In addition to the challenges posed by the struggling economy, symphony audiences are continuing to increase in age as overall attendance continues to decline (Alan Brown’s Classical Music Consumer Segmentation Study and Thomas Wolf’s “The Search for Shining Eyes”).  This decline has been most dramatic among young adults over the past thirty years.  Without adequate numbers of younger people to eventually replace current audiences, the future of symphony orchestras in the US has been called into question.  Despite the doom and gloom of bankruptcy announcements and foreclosures in the world of symphony orchestras, some organizations are managing to adapt and survive through innovative programming and by offering greater opportunities for audience engagement.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Chicago Symphony, and Detroit Symphony Orchestra have gained attention for their ability to engage 21st century audiences in the concert experience through 21st century means – the BSO’s Off the Cuff and Webumentaries series; Brooklyn Phil’s Beethoven Remix (click here for finalists) and collaboration with Mos Def; San Francisco Symphony’s Keeping Score and conductor MTT’s TEDTalks; Chicago Symphony’s Beyond the Score; and Detroit Symphony’s webcasts.  I believe that engaging the Millennial generation as members of the audience and as donors will increase the potential for these symphony orchestras, as well as other arts organizations, to maintain and sustain future success.  Not only would this help fill an ever-growing void in audience attendance, it would also lend to renewed interest and excitement in orchestral work and foster future generations of support for music and the arts.

As a member of the Millennial generation, I am excited to meet and talk with other Millennials who are passionate about symphony orchestras, classical music, and the arts.  As arts managers we must know how to attract and engage these individuals in ways that resonate with their rapidly evolving interests and needs (Pew Research Center – Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next) , while retaining the current audiences and donors already supporting our organizations.  In general, Millennials are eager to get involved, take on leadership roles, and contribute time and money to philanthropic efforts in nonprofit organizations (see Millennial Impact Report).  Symphony orchestras are beginning to take notice and placing greater emphasis on engaging these younger audiences and donors in exciting and relevant ways.

It is an honor to be the guest host of #ArtsMgtChat in the upcoming discussion The Millennials’ Orchestra: Engaging Younger Symphony Audiences and Donors in the Classical Music Experience.  I look forward to hearing your ideas on engaging Millennials in the performing arts!

Discussion questions:

  1. As an arts consumer and arts manager, what are some of the major barriers to symphony orchestras and classical music?
  2. What are professional symphony orchestras doing well to engage the Millennial generation?
  3. What role(s) do Millennials play in and for your organization?
  4. How much priority should Millennials be given in the nonprofit arts?
  5. What marketing strategies does your organization have in place for targeting and attracting younger audiences?
  6. Does your organization have development programs and/or opportunities for younger donors?
  7. How important is mobile and social media technology for engaging audiences and donors?
  8. How have you been involved with music in your life?

[1] PewResearchCenter, 2010, Millennials: Confident-Connected-Open to Change, In Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next, edited by Paul Taylor and Scott Keeter: Pew Research Center.