Bill Haley over at Philanthropy Daily shares the news that arts organizations are having a very hard time getting younger donors to give, even while they are very generous as a whole and represent (already) a major chunk of annual donations nationwide.
This, of course, is tough news (and perhaps not news) for those of you who run organizations focused on the arts, culture, and other areas whose value is more nebulous or less immediate than, say, feeding hungry kids.
But all is not lost. I run an arts organization myself, the Anselm Society. And many of Narrator's clients are organizations in this boat, and we are working to help them thrive. Here are a few things to remember:
1. Culture patrons have always trended older
This issue isn't new. I love Marjorie Garber's book "Patronizing the Arts," and one of the things you notice as you look at the history of arts/culture philanthropy is that it tends to be built around major donors with a lot of money. As you get older, you're more likely to be able to make the $10 million donation--but you're also more likely to see the value of investing in institutions that shape culture. Which brings me to...
2. Younger donors have a harder time seeing long-term vision--but so do you
They've only been alive for 20, 30, 40 years. So of course they want to donate their smaller amounts of money to things where they can see an impact pretty quickly. Selling them on a long-term vision is difficult, but not impossible. Smart Gen X and Gen Y outreach connects long-term impact (i.e. your mission) to two things: short-term impact, and immediate personal benefits (like membership in a cause or perks). That's why the orchestras that have thriving younger audiences and donors are the ones that have made it affordable, fun, and exclusive-feeling to be involved, are telling them great stories about their own impact...and recognize that their greatest financial value might be 10-20 years down the road.
3. You are in uncharted waters
There is no historical precedent for large numbers of young people effectively supporting the arts. With the Anselm Society, we've noticed that it's actually fairly easy to get young people involved (using the methods described in #2 above), but a lot of creativity needs to go into it--including new techniques and tools like social media and crowdfunding. You have resources available to you that nobody has had before. What an opportunity!
The point of this post isn't to say "Relax, don't worry about it." Definitely think about these audiences, and put significant effort into outreach--but you have to think way outside the box, learn from similar organizations that are doing it well, and learn to think of things like involvement and numbers as significant assets (not just dollars).