Millennial visitors to cultural organizations have some different characteristics than non-millennial visitors – and those characteristics may surprise some leaders!
Unfortunately, not everyone is interested in visiting cultural organizations in their free time. But we love the people who do come through our doors! At IMPACTS, people who have visited any cultural organization in the last two years are called “active visitors.”
Cultural organization types do vary slightly in their top profile attributes among current visitors. Art museum active visitors are generally the wealthiest of the museum-going bunch, and science center/museum active visitors tend to have children in the household, for instance. But the core characteristics are generally similar. Generally, a person who visits a historic site is likely to be the kind of person who goes to an art museum.
But here’s an interesting finding: The most-shared characteristics among millennial visitors are different than those of non-millennials. And, yes – it goes beyond a generational affinity for avocado toast.
To start, let’s take a look at the most shared attributes of adult non-millennial visitors to cultural organizations. This includes members of Generation X, Baby Boomers, and Traditionalists.
Now let’s take a look at millennials in the US who have visited any cultural organization in the last 2 years. As a reminder: These are the most shared characteristics of people who say they have visited within two years.
1) Millennial visitors are more racially and ethnically diverse than non-millennial visitors.
The most-shared characteristic among adult non-millennial visitors is that they are white non-Hispanic individuals. Not only is this not the top characteristic among millennial visitors, but race and/or ethnicity does not even make the list!
This finding may not be entirely surprising, given that only just over half of all millennials are white, non-Hispanic individuals compared to 72% of Baby Boomers. Thus, when we talk about engaging millennial visitors, we are also talking about reaching audiences of diverse racial and ethic backgrounds.
Being young is a bigger defining attribute for millennials than their racial or ethnic backgrounds. This doesn’t mean that those backgrounds are unimportant, to be sure! Rather, it points toward the interconnected imperatives to “engage millennials” and to “engage more racially and ethnically diverse individuals.” Millennial visitors are more diverse than non-millennial, adult visitors, and that is important information to keep in mind when developing ongoing engagement strategies.
2) Millennial visitors are even more likely to have graduated from college than non-millennial visitors
Considering that millennials are on track to be the most educated generation in US history, it may not be surprising that millennial visitors are more likely to have graduated college than non-millennial visitors. Non-millennial visitors are 2.7x more likely to have graduated college than the average American – making them a particularly well-educated group. Millennial visitors are a whopping 4.3x more likely to have graduated from college than the average American! In fact, this is the most shared attribute among millennials who have visited any cultural organization in the last two years!
This isn’t necessarily a call to crank up the “education value” factor of a visitor experience – at least, not without cranking up the entertainment factor alongside it. Millennials are among a cultural organization’s most educated visitors, and “entertainment value” is the most important aspect of millennial visitor satisfaction. (Critically, it’s the biggest contributor to non-millennial visitor satisfaction as well). But millennials also value having an educational experience slightly more than non-millennials. (Remember: Being entertaining does not mean being meaningless. It can mean the opposite)
3) Millennial visitors are not generally low-income individuals
The average household income of a non-millennial visitor is $127,000. But at $79,000, current millennial visitors aren’t exactly low-income (unless you live in San Francisco, apparently).
This information challenges the popular excuse that “millennials don’t attend because they are poor.” In fact, research shows that admission cost is not a primary barrier to visiting cultural organizations among millennials who have interest in visiting, but do not attend. Moreover, millennials are shown to prefer spending money on experiences rather than material things. The primary barrier is simply that they prefer to do something else instead. This is a relevance opportunity for cultural organizations. Preferring an alternative leisure activity is a four times bigger barrier to attendance than admission cost!
Here’s an interesting finding that also challenges popular stereotypes about millennial likely visitors: Millennials who have an interest in attending cultural organizations but who haven’t done so have a shared characteristic of a household income of $92,000! That is $13,000 more than current millennial visitors!
While millennials are generally a generation in debt, leaders benefit by considering the characteristics of their actual, likely visitors. (While you’re at it, you might consider adding a few millennials to your Board of Directors, too.)
4) Millennial visitors are more likely to actively support causes
This is where things get exciting! Millennial visitors are 7.8x more likely to donate time as a volunteer than the average person in the US, and they are 6.7x more likely to sign a petition to support a cause or candidate! Interestingly, these characteristics do not show up among the most-shared for non-millennial visitors.
Cultural organization visitors are already a cause-oriented group who are more likely than non-visitors to vote in elections. Millennial visitors are particularly active participants in supporting causes. We find that this is also true in terms of cause durability: Millennials are taking their “causes” with them as they age rather than changing them as a function of aging alone. Millennials aren’t “aging into” caring about arts and culture, so organizations benefit by creating active engagement strategies rather than waiting around with their fingers crossed.
The fact that current visitors are generally more active in their support of causes is great news that organizations may be able to leverage within their membership opportunities and ongoing engagement strategies.
5) Millennial visitors are more likely to be cord-cutters who donate to nonprofits online
“Super-connected” means that a person has access to the web at home, at work, and on a mobile device. The second most-shared characteristic among millennial visitors is that they are super-connected. While it also makes the top-five characteristics among non-millennials, millennial visitors have several characteristics that underscore their digital connectivity and reliance on “new” instead of “traditional” communication channels. They are 5.7x more likely to be “cord cutters” who do not subscribe to satellite or cable TV but instead rely exclusively on services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.
Perhaps most critically for cultural organizations, millennial visitors are a whopping 11.6x more likely to donate to a nonprofit online! This finding underscores the need to understand that there are generally living, breathing human donors behind computer screens, and engaging with online donors is just as important as engaging with those who write a physical check. In this way, millennials may be forcing organizations to consider the melding of onsite and offsite experiences that is increasingly common today.
While millennial visitors may be particularly super-connected, it’s important to note that members of Generation X and Baby Boomers are also super-connected to the web. It’s a top-five shared characteristic, after all! Digital connection does not “belong” to millennials by any means, and the fact that they are more likely to make donations online suggests a “new normal” for cultural organizations long into the future.
Millennials are a critical audience for cultural organizations. The generation is simply so large that they are both the generation that we most need to attract and the generation that we most need to satisfy… at the same time. While they are our most frequent attendees, they are also the generation that we are failing to engage at representative rates. But talking “engaging millennials” does not mean forgetting other generations! In fact, we increasingly find in our research that “millennial trends” serve as early indicators for trends impacting other generations. They are canaries in the coal mine for ongoing trends to engage all audiences in a connected world.
The shared characteristics of millennial visitors shine a light on some of the benefits that this group brings to the table – such as actively engaging in causes, expanding opportunities for diversity and inclusion, and bridging the gap between the onsite and offsite experience.
They are but one generation in our audience makeup, but they are an important one with unique characteristics for organizations to leverage. Understanding these shared characteristics can help organizations better understand the general millennial, cultural organization visitor – and secure ongoing support.