The Millennials’ Orchestra: Millennial Generation Audiences & Donors

Social media, the Internet, and mobile technology are considered to be key to connecting, interacting, and building relationships between Millennials and arts organizations. Read more of my research on engaging Millennial generation audiences and donors in my latest blog post. Continue reading

The Millennials’ Orchestra: Defining A Contemporary Generation

“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: Defining A Contemporary Generation

Millennial Engagement with U.S. Symphony Orchestras
Members of the Millennial generation are noticeably lacking in the audiences of symphony orchestra concert halls.[1] Based on my research and personal experiences, I believe that developing a better understanding of the Millennial generation, and working to identify and establish effective marketing and development strategies tailored to their preferences and needs, may lend to greater success and stability for U.S. symphony orchestras in the 21st century.  The literature review to follow addresses some of the pressing issues facing symphony orchestras in the U.S., provides insight into the Millennial generation mindset and behaviors, shares examples of innovative programming and forward-thinking adaptations, and reinforces the importance of Millennial engagement.  First, however, it is important to consider how the term “Millennial” is commonly referred to and understood from various points of view.

An Important Note on Terminology
Researchers often refer to the Millennial generation in a variety of ways and use these terms somewhat interchangeably (e.g. Millennials, Millennial generation, Generation Y, Generation Next, NextGen, and younga(er) people/population/cohorts).  Characteristics of a specific generation (Millennial), therefore, are often conflated with the more general age category (young).  Each generation exhibits characteristics and behavior shaped by the prevalent attitudes, expectations, and events of the time.  The Boston Consulting Group, for example, has identified six different groups of Millennials based on consumer behavior.[2]  Listed in descending order of prevalence, these segments include: Hip-ennial (29%), Millennial Mom (22%), Anti-Millennial (16%), Gadget Guru (13%), Clean and Green Millennial (10%), and Old-School Millennial (10%).[3] Future generations of young people may or may not display the same characteristics associated with present-day Millennials.

Inconsistency also exists in defining age ranges of the Millennial generation.  While similar, the minimum and maximum boundaries of age tend to vary from source to source.  According to the Case Foundation, for example, Millennials are “people born between 1978 and 1993, or individuals who are currently 15 to 29 years old,”[4] while members of the Boston Consulting Group consider them as individuals “aged 16 to 34.”[5]  JiWire researchers, specializing in “mobile audience insights,”[6] consider Millennials to be “American consumers between ages 18 and 34.”[7]  Achieve’s Millennial Impact Report 2012 focuses on young adults between the ages of 20 and 35.[8] Finally, Pew Research Center’s Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next, and corresponding report Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change., define Millennials as young adults, ages 18 to 29.[9]

Defining a generation solely based on age quickly becomes irrelevant as time passes – what is true at the time would not hold true in the following year.  It is more easily and consistently understood as a range of birth years.  The figure below is a comparison the five most recent generations by age (as of 2011) and by birth year.  The original version of this age timeline can be found on the Pew Research Center website as an interactive graphic.[10]

Pew Research Center: A Portrait of Five Generations

A Portrait of 5 Generations

The Pew Research Center’s 2010 report, “Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change.,”[11] is based on information collected during a two-week survey in January 2010, involving more than 2,000 adults across the country.[12]  Millennials accounted for 830 of the total 2,020 sample group, enabling a more detailed analysis of Millennial attitudes.[13]  Additional Pew Research Center survey findings supplement the 2010 report, including the 2009 survey on changing attitudes toward work (Oct. 21-25, 2009 with 1,028 respondents, 18+ years old) and generational differences (July 20-Aug. 2, 2009 with 1,815 people nationally, 16+ years old).[14]  Surveys from their ongoing Internet & American Life Project provide supporting social and demographic information for the chapter on technology.[15]

Given the large sample size, national scope of the research, and multidimensional approach, one would expect Pew Research Center’s understanding of the Millennial generation to be highly credible and reliable.  Contributing to the larger report series – Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next – the Pew Research Center’s 2010 report looks at the values, attitudes and experiences of America’s next generation: the Millennials.”[16] It has been my mission to discover how Millennials value, perceive, and prefer to experience classical music performed by symphony orchestras in the United States.

*     *     *

Coming soon…a look at the issues facing U.S. symphony orchestras and some of the factors influencing Millennial participation.


[1] Greg Sandow. “Building a Young Audience (Proof of Culture Change).”
[2] Boston Consulting Group and Barkley and Service Management Group, “The Millennial Consumer: Debunking Stereotypes.” In BCG Perspectives: Boston Consulting Group, 2012.
[3] Michelle Lamar, 2012, New Research: 6 Distinct Segments of Millennials Identified, Social Media Today, retrieved from socialmediatoday website: http://socialmediatoday.com/michellelamarspiral16/490841/new-research-6-distinct-segments-millennials-identified.
[4] Alison Fine, “Social Citizens BETA,” Case Foundation, 2008.
[5] Sonia Paul, 2012, Millennial Consumers: Engaged, Optimistic, Charitable (STUDY), in Mashable Business.
[6] JiWire, 2012, Mobile Audience Insights Report, Q2 2012.
[7] Lauren Indvik, 2011, How the Millennial Generation Uses Mobile (INFOGRAPHIC), Mashable Tech, http://mashable.com/2011/10/13/millenials-mobile-infographic/.
[8] Achieve and Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates (JGA), “The Millennial Impact Report 2012.”
[9] Pew Research Center, “Millennials: Confident-Connected-Open to Change.”
[10] Pew Research Center, “Interactive: A Portrait of Five Generations,” http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2010/02/24/interactive-graphic-demographic-portrait-of-four-generations/.
[11] Pew Research Center, 2010, “Millennials: Confident-Connected-Open to Change.”
[12] Ibid, “About the Report,” i.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Pew Research Center, 2010, “Millennials: Confident-Connected-Open to Change.”

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 tweetreach.com – 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!