Sustainable performing arts organizations understand their audiences. Sustainable museums understand their visitors. Audiences and visitors change, generations differ and their impact on operations, marketing and finance shifts over time. For cultural organizations to stay in touch with their publics is a full time task. The eminently readable “Generations…,” winner of the 2008 McAdam Award for the best nonprofit management book, examines six trends involving generational change: financial stress, technological acceleration, population diversity, family redefinition, “mebranding” and work-life balance. Of these, “mebranding” or ultra-customization is particularly interesting. A growing minority has become used to and demands highly tailored products, services and experiences. Technology has accelerated the expectation of the highly customized offering. Like most challenges, it can be viewed as a problem, an opportunity or both.
Audiences and visitors are not the only lenses through which Brinckerhoff looks at the implications of generational differences. All the same influences are at play within cultural organizations’ boards, staff and volunteers. Generational data (demographics and psychographics) don’t argue for turning an organization’s strategy on its head, much less calling for modifications in mission and vision. For Brinckerhoff, the data should have an appropriate influence in six ways. The data should: be included in planning, trigger intergenerational conversations within the organization, be used in marketing, broaden the concept of diversity in hiring decisions, influence consideration of ways technology might add value to cultural experiences or extend their effect following a performance or museum visit and inspire leaders to ask and listen more often.