The Millennial Alumni Research Project

Millennial Alumni

It’s hard to believe that I’m coming up on one year post-graduation from American University’s Arts Management program and the completion of my Capstone Project, ‘The Millennials’ Orchestra – Marketing and Development Strategies for Engaging Millennial Audiences and Donors in the U.S. Symphony Orchestra Classical Concert Experience.”  During the research process, my understanding of the Millennial generation as a whole and their inclinations to give was greatly enhanced by the studies and articles published by Achieve, Pew Research Center, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy.  I became a big fan of these Millennially-charged fact tanks, so you can imagine my nerdy delight when I found out my Alma mater was selected to partner with Achieve and the Chronicle of Philanthropy in the 2014 Millennial Alumni Research Project.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, in partnership with Achieve, will research the attitudes and engagement preferences of young alumni (Millennial generation graduates age 22-32). Through research surveys, focus groups, and user testing, institutions of higher education will have a better understanding of how alumni prefer to be involved and ways to connect and seek their support.

Flickr photo, ITU/Rowan Farrell

Flickr photo, ITU/Rowan Farrell

As a Millennial alum, I received an email asking me to participate in the survey.  I was excited to help out my school and contribute to the continued learning around the Millennial generation. Of course, I had to say yes!

I clicked on the link, taking me to the online survey.  In an appreciative and upbeat manner, the general purpose of the survey, as well as the length of time I could expect to devote to completing it, was explained upfront:

Thanks for agreeing to take the 2014 Higher Education Millennial Alumni Survey!  Your university is partnering with the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Achieve to understand the interests and preferences of Millennial alumni.  The survey will take approximately 10 minutes and we thank you for your time.

The survey began with a couple of simple, demographic questions, asking me to identify my gender and birth date (to verify that I fall into the Millennial age-range, I suspect).  Having completed the introduction, I was informed that the survey would be broken into three main components.  Compelled to know more, I continued with the survey.

As I completed one section and entered another, I received a clear message indicating the section/topic change.  I appreciated these mile-markers, not only for the reminder of the topics, but also for the structure of the survey.  Before we go any farther, however, you’re probably wondering what these mystery topics were all about…

  1. Alumni Attitudes
  2. Alumni Giving
  3. Alumni Involvement

As you might expect, I was asked a variety of questions about my interests, career development as it relates to my degree, giving preferences, and involvement with my Alma mater post-graduation, among others.  By the end of the survey, I was invited to participate in their on-going Millennial Involvement Focus Group and agreed.

It will be interesting to take part in this focus group over the next several months and exciting to read about the results of this research initiative.  We’ll have to stay tuned!

The research findings of the Young Alumni Engagement and Attitudinal Study will be released at MCON14 on June 18-19, 2014 in Chicago, IL.

MCON14

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The Millennials’ Orchestra: From The Millennial’s Perspective

“The Millennials’ Orchestra” series of blog posts are not meant to be opinion pieces, but rather founded in research, which I gathered and reported as part of my graduate Capstone project from 2012-2013. This is a personal blog and does not represent the views or opinions of my employer.


The Millennials’ Orchestra: From The Millennial’s Perspective

Symphony orchestra concerts – Where are the Millennials?  Why aren’t they in our audiences?  What are they interested in and what would excite them to attend classical orchestra concerts?

So many orchestra managers have lost sleep over these types of questions – including myself.  As a Millennial and self proclaimed orchestra-lover, I knew there had to be others out there like me who love the art form, but perhaps they chose to participate in symphonic music in different ways than in the traditional sense of attending a concert… With these questions and more, I set out on a mission for answers.  From there, my graduate research survey was born.

Through this survey, I was able to gain valuable insight into the current public sentiment around classical music and symphony orchestra performance in the 21st century and across the U.S.[1]  The survey was distributed on social media networks  – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and WordPress – which may account for the lack of responses from the two oldest generations.[2] Within ten days, however, 110 people had voluntarily participated in the survey.[3] Out of those 110 respondents, 62 had identified themselves as Millennials.[4]  (Here’s where it gets really interesting!)

Millennials Speak Out:

What in your opinion are the biggest challenges facing symphony orchestras, especially when it comes to engaging younger audiences in live performance?

    1. Approximately 60% of Millennial survey participants selected “lack of interest”[5] as their response. When answers such as, “all of the above” or “combination of expense and lack of interest” are also included, that figure increased by nearly three percentage points (to 62.9%).  Across all survey participants, however, “lack of interest” was clearly the outlier (45% selected this answer).[6]
    2. The second most prevalent answer among Millennials was “concert experience” (10 out of 62, or ~16%).[7]

Contrary to common belief, “expense” is not the biggest concern for Millennials when it comes to orchestra concerts.  Albeit it’s still an important and influential factor, only 6 out of 62, or ~9.7% of Millennial survey takers[8] selected this as their answer.  It appears that Millennials place greater value on relevance and appeal when making the decision to attend a symphony orchestra concert.

So where are the audiences? The young people?
Thought-Leaders Share Their Opinions:

Greg Sandow, author of The Future of Classical Music ArtsJournal blog, believes that the concert experience is at the heart of the lack of Millennials in attendance at classical symphony orchestra concerts.[9]  Other limiting factors face U.S. symphony orchestras. With increasing reliance on social and handheld technology in our modern society, Engaging Art contributing authors highlight how the interests and expectations of contemporary audiences have changed, as well as the nature of arts participation.[10] Dan Laughey, author of Music & Youth Culture, emphasizes the connection of “youth culture” [11] to the energetic, social atmosphere of music clubs and other pop culture environments.[12]  Mark Shugoll, of Shugoll Research outside of Washington, D.C., suggests that aligning program offerings with such inclinations can help arts organizations become more relevant and appealing to the elusive Millennial generation patrons.[13]

What do you think, readers?: 

What is the key to symphony orchestra appeal in the eyes of our Millennial populations?

What do you think it will take for symphony orchestras in the U.S. to inspire recurring attendance among these coveted audiences?


[1] Catherine Starek, “Graduate Research Survey 2013 – Classical Music and Symphony Orchestra Performance,” Google Form, 2013.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Greg Sandow, (ArtsJournal blogger), interview by Catherine Starek.
[10] Steven Tepper and Bill Ivey, 2008, Engaging Art.
[11] Dan Laughey, Music & Youth Culture, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd, 2006.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Mark Shugoll, “BSO’s Symphony with a Twist,” interview by Catherine Starek, 2013.

The Millennials’ Orchestra: The Challenges Facing U.S. Symphony Orchestras – Part 1

“The Millennials’ Orchestra” series of blog posts are not meant to be opinion pieces, but rather founded in research, which I gathered and reported as part of my graduate Capstone project from 2012-2013. This is a personal blog and does not represent the views or opinions of my employer.


The Millennials’ Orchestra: The Challenges Facing U.S. Symphony Orchestras – Part 1

Declining Demographics
Symphony orchestras have been faced with many challenges over the decades, including financial distress, decreasing audiences and revenue, and increased competition for our patrons’ attention as technology, work, and education continue to evolve and shape our lives.  The so-called classical music crisis and threat of extinction for symphony orchestras have been a cause for concern among music lovers, culture-seekers, and orchestra managers everywhere.

In part 1 of my posts on the challenges facing symphony orchestras, I address the issue of declining audiences in the concert hall.  Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3, coming soon!

A Return to CHURN
The Classical Music Consumer Segmentation Study, led by Audience Insight LLC Project Director Alan Brown from 2000-2002, is considered to be the most extensive discipline-specific audience study ever conducted in the U.S.[1] The study analyzes the consumer markets for classical music performance (existing and prospective) among fifteen symphony orchestras across the United States.[2] These include the:[3]

  • Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Charlotte Symphony Orchestra
  • Colorado Symphony Association
  • Detroit Symphony Orchestra Hall
  • Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Kansas City Symphony
  • Long Beach Symphony Association
  • Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra
  • New World Symphony
  • Oregon Symphony Association
  • The Philadelphia Orchestra Association
  • Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
  • Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
  • Symphony Society of San Antonio
  • Wichita Symphony Society

With more than 750 interviews conducted at each location, the study reveals valuable insights into consumer behaviors, frequency and patterns of attendance, as well as the values and benefits that audiences associate with the classical music concert experience.[4]

The research initiative stems from the preceding Magic of Music project commissioned by the Knight Foundation with the primary goal of strengthening the connection, or the bond, between audiences and orchestra musicians in the concert hall (phase 1, 1994).[5]  Innovative programs were designed as points of entry for new and younger (ages currently associated with members of the Millennial generation) patrons and evaluated based on the engagement of these audiences.[6]  Phase 2 of the project (1999) involved the continuation of program innovation and audience development,[7] and led to the national Classical Music Consumer Segmentation Study by Audience Insight LLC (2000 – 2002).[8]

The comprehensive two-year study shows how symphony orchestras across the U.S. have “accumulated large numbers of inactive, former buyers – people who have attended a concert at some point in their lives but who do not attend now with any regularity.”[9] Declining attendance at symphony orchestras concerts (that is, having difficulty filling concert halls and attracting new audiences) is a prominent concern.[10] Unfortunately, similar patterns of poor audience retention and decline in overall attendance emerge in other landmark studies conducted by highly reputable arts researchers.

The League of American Orchestra’s Audience Growth Initiative (2005 – 2009), for example, revealed that 65% of symphony orchestra patrons are “one-time/uncommitted buyers.”[11] Despite the large number of individuals belonging to this segment, these patrons provided only 7% of the orchestras’ total revenue.[12]  Conversely, “loyal subscribers” and “extreme patrons,” or patrons that demonstrated greater commitment to larger average gifts and paying more for tickets and subscription packages, represented less than 10% patron households.[13]  This small group is also responsible for providing nearly 75% of the orchestras’ revenue.[14]  The disproportionate levels of support exist among concert ticket buyers and symphony orchestra donors.[15]

The lead researcher, Oliver Wyman, released the findings in the 2008 “Churn Report.”[16] As Wyman explains, “while the orchestras were good at attracting newcomers to concerts, they were having trouble getting people to come back for a second concert or sign up for a multi-concert subscription.”[17]  Churn has become particularly concerning as symphony orchestras face the increasing challenges of aging audiences and declining attendance at classical music concerts.[18] Researchers and consultants at TRG Arts have uncovered similarly disturbing trends in cultural arts attendance over decades of research.[19]

According to their Patron Loyalty Index, a measurement tool that gauges the level of loyalty patrons have to arts organizations, “Tryers” are considered the least loyal patrons and make up more than 90% of arts constituencies.[20]  Lack of loyalty, therefore, makes these patrons some of the most difficult to retain.[21] Churn and inactivity are understandably common behaviors at this level.  “Buyers” account for approximately 10% of patrons,[22] and are considered moderately loyal and more willing to make a donation in addition to ticket purchases.  The most loyal constituents are the “Advocates,” representing 2% of most patron bases.[23]  Advocates are typically the most frequent, consistent, and recent attendants.[24]

TRG Arts: The Loyalty Pyramid

LoyaltyPyramid

In order to mitigate associated risk and revenue loss, cultural arts organizations (symphony orchestras in this case) must actively seek the “re-engagement of Tryers, either from first time to second or last time to now.”[25]  Developing stronger, long-lasting patron relationships fosters greater patron loyalty and audience retention, effectively moving them from “Tryers,” to “Buyers,” to “Advocates.”[26]  With this approach, symphony orchestras can develop patron loyalty programs that strategically engage cultural consumers and encourage greater loyalty and increasingly philanthropic behavior.  In turn, the growth and redistribution of patrons displaying “Buyer” and “Advocate” behavior and loyalty serves to fortify and help sustain the organization.[27]

Subscription programs are seen as one way to escalate audience and donor loyalty.[28] Although researchers in the Audience Insight LLC’s 2002 consumer segmentation study believe that subscription campaign marketing can limit concert attendance for U.S. symphony orchestras.[29] Subscription marketing is often at odds with the needs and preferences of “younger audiences” – defined by Audience Insight LLC as ticket buyers between 18 and 34 years old (2002).[30] Many Millennials are simply uninterested in making a commitment to concert subscriptions.[31] Attracting these new and younger audiences, therefore, “may require a loosening of the definitional boundaries around ‘classical music’ and structural changes to the concert experience that recognize the underlying values and benefits that consumers seek from listening to classical music and attending live concerts.”[32]


[1] Alan Brown (Project Director), “Classical Music Consumer Segmentation Study: How Americans Relate to Classical Music and Their Local Orchestras, commissioned by 15 American Orchestras and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation,” Southport, Connecticut: Audience Insight LLC, 2002, 5.
[2] Alan Brown (Project Director), “Classical Music Consumer Segmentation Study,” 2002.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid 127.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid 5.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid 6, 9.
[10] Ibid 12.
[11] PRESCOTT & ASSOCIATES, “Churning Butter into Gold: Patron Growth Initiative.” In League of American Orchestras 2011 National Conference. Minneapolis, Minnesota: League of American Orchestras, 2011.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Oliver Wyman, “Audience Growth Initiative Detailed Findings and Recommendations,” in Orchestra Audience Growth Initiative: Oliver Wyman, 2008.
[17] Oliver Wyman, “Oliver Wyman » Churn Report Facts and Stats.” last modified 2013, accessed March 20, 2013, http://www.oliverwyman.com/4071.htm.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Jill Robinson, “Too Many Tryers to Sustain the Arts,” in Analysis from TRG Arts: A Blog on Cultural Consumer Behavior, blogspot: Blogger, 2012, http://trgarts.blogspot.com/2012/03/too-many-tryers-to-sustain-arts.html.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Jill Robinson, “Too Many Tryers to Sustain the Arts.”
[29] Ibid.
[30] Alan Brown (Project Director), “Classical Music Consumer Segmentation Study.”
[31] Ibid.
[32] Ibid 2.

How Millennial Are You?

How Millennial Are You?  This is what Pew Research Center – an organization known to track, analyze, and report on “numbers, facts, and trends shaping your world” – is asking American generations.  As an emerging arts leader (one who’s researching the Millennial generation and working to identify and describe fundraising and marketing strategies to effectively engage this generation in symphony orchestra concerts and events), I was excited to take THE QUIZ in order to gauge my overall Millennial-ness.

As a member of the Millennial generation, I scored 86 out of 100 (see below).  Questions asked relate to the type of data collected by Pew Research Center for their landmark project: Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next.  From politics and values, to media and digital life, as well as demographics and social trends, Millennials have been deemed “Confident. Connected. Open to Change.”

How Millennial are you? Take the quiz!>>  

HowMillennialAreYou?PersonalScore12.08.12