What do Millennials want from a museum experience? If you haven’t already, it might be time to ask us.
Museum development officers and marketing professionals are all wondering if members of the Millennial generation (born after 1979) will support museums like our parents did. The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) seems to think we won’t. Although there is very limited data on Millennial attendance each year, AAM’s Trendswatch 2013 report highlights that Millennials have a tendency to give to and connect with other causes first.
Similarly, The Millennial Impact Project has found that Millennial donors prefer to give to social causes over arts or academic organizations like museums. The museums that see the most attendance from Millennials in the United States are the ones who don’t charge for admission. So how do institutions raise funds from this demographic?
Last year, David Gelles penned an article for The New York Times called “Wooing a New Generation of Museum Patrons.”Gelles finds that museums are starting to “woo” younger generations through special events in hopes they will solidify future engagement and museum patronage.
Museums need patrons to fill their boards and new donors to support their initiatives as the generational shift (coupled with constant changes in technology) threatens their long-term futures.
Museums can’t ignore this generation and our unique needs if they want to inspire us to give and invest in them.
As a Millennial, I can speak for myself, and here are four things to keep in mind when attracting a Millennial crowd:
1. Leverage our love of nostalgia.
It might seem ridiculous to old-timers since we’re only 20-35 years old, but Millennials love nostalgia. Give us the sense of returning to a museum we might have visited on an elementary school field trip by having young professional events like touring the museum after hours.
2. We value networking and making connections.
We Millennials are a social bunch and like to be heard. Consider creating a young professionals group that is invited to volunteer or contribute to special events and leadership meetings.
3. We’re always looking for free or cheap things to do.
Younger Millennials, especially, are always on the lookout for discounts. For me, a partnership with my university landed me free admission to several local museums with my student ID, which led me to visit two museums this year that I hadn’t been to in over five years.
Older Millennials have young families, and with student loans, they don’t feel like they have the time or the money to contribute to your organization. Think of ways to create an interactive and engaging atmosphere for their young children while not breaking the bank. Family memberships continue to be a popular choice for top attractions in the area that are exciting to visit multiple times a year.
4. Offer us a chance to unplug.
A lot of museums are leading the charge on including interactive technology at almost every exhibit. While this can help with taking in information, it can also be overwhelming. Sometimes we want to come to a museum and get away from technology for a little bit. There doesn’t have to be a new piece of technology at every corner; however, we do expect a good mobile website with smart usability.
During his presentation at Indy Redefined, Indianapolis Museum of Art Curator Scott Stulen said in regard to museums that “fun doesn’t have to be frivolous, and smart doesn’t have to be boring.” He’s right. And what gets Millennials to engage with museums is the sense of community, the hub of information and the ability to marvel at something we can’t see outside of the museum walls.
Melissa Wall is the graduate research intern at Achieve, a division of Forte Interactive. She is pursuing a master’s nonprofit management and philanthropic studies at IUPUI in Indianapolis.