Who Gives?: The Twenty-Something Donor

Who Gives?: The Twenty-Something Donor

Nov 10, 2011

The first time I donated to the arts, it was through my university. DePauw had a really amazing music school and visual arts programs, so it seemed fairly obvious to me to earmark the small donation for use by the arts. 

Obvious might be the wrong word here, because I was also the only one of my friends who, even for my limited involvement with the arts, had actually allocated the donation.  I still find, my friends and I take advantage of free classical concerts, lectures or outreach, and don’t ever follow-up with a monetary donation or in-kind support.  So what gives?

This seems to me like a fairly big challenge, and also an incredibly important one for all art and culture institutions, because donor bases for the arts are aging.  My generation is going to be even more important to hook as donors now, rather than later.

It’s hard to, at twenty-something, make a decision and prioritize your giving. We are being asked to manage our own budgets and to give to other organizations (i.e.: our universities, possibly our Greek organizations, groups we were involved in early on and our office foundations).  We want to give, but our priorities and interests are changing often.  In the battle for our few spare charitable dollars, how can we be convinced?

Would newer concerts, newer venues or artist meet-and-greet after a performance make the difference building the personal connection?  Is it the one really great experience that hooks us?  I’ve seen a few young-professional groups that act more as social organizations that may be successful, but it all comes back to the innovation and personal connection aspect of development. 

Part of me also wonders about how much of the fundraising in question is a need for education: I’d venture to guess a fair amount of my peers don’t know the difference between a Bach or Chopin piece, nor do they really care that they don’t know.

Another concern for the twenty-something is clearly ticket costs. When we go to a free concert, the last thing we consider is the expense it takes to put together the concert, nor is the overhead cost of running a musical organization at the forefront of our minds when we’re listening to live music.  Even $25 feels like a lot when you’re on a budget and can get music for free online. When tickets are often much higher than $25, the arts, and classical music within that, become more about a special treat-- a night out—rather than a complete social, educational opportunity or investment in the arts.  Making the bridge from “special” to “important” is another challenge I see, and one I really don’t know how to solve, and I wonder how my peers would answer it.

So what gets us to give?  I’m not sure if it is a combination of education and special events for young people, or actually explaining expenses.  The one great thing about artists, performers and musicians, is that there is much creativity to be had. How can we use that creativity to convince me and my generation that this is worthwhile?


"Hooking" The Twenty-Something Donor


First of all, I’m impressed that you are (by your own admission) one of the few twenty-something young people who have any idea of the need and value of voluntarily supporting the Arts. As the director of a not-for-profit classical performance venue, I know as well as anyone, that our donor base and audience base is aging at a time when private support is desperately needed. However, given the state of economy, the difficult employment situation, and the reality of having to deal with paying back college loans, paying for housing, transportation and even food, it’s difficult or even impossible for a young adult to even consider contributing financially to the arts.

I’d respectfully suggest a slightly different approach: My feeling, based on many years of experience, is that people who are seriously involved as classical music audience members and/or who are regular attendees at galleries, museums and other forms of art presentation, become lifelong advocates of their favorite art form, and tend to support it automatically as they grow a little older and are typically in a “better” financial position.

The challenge therefore is not how to convince them to contribute, but how do we convert them into lovers of the art we love and automatically become supporters.

Many local performance organizations in the classical music, dance and theater worlds, are conducting various experiments to try to bring the elusive twenty-something audience in their doors. Ploys such as very specific concert programming, concert timing, and holding related social events do seem to attract this audience. The real challenge is than to keep them returning and to convert them to regular subscribers to the more traditional fare. I think the jury is still very much “out” as to whether we’re succeeding.

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