6 Tips for Hosting a Multi-Generational Event

Imagine this: Your event program is playing out just as you’d envisioned. The speakers are hitting all the right marks and their information is valuable to the audience. Everybody should be engaged in your program, yet as you look around at your attendees you notice only half the room is paying attention.

Before we begin, we would like to point out this is a general guide and we are using terms to describe different generations based on data. In no way are we suggesting that you must fit into a certain group or category based on your age. We understand there are always exceptions and uniqueness in every generation!

Sound familiar? In this scenario, you are witnessing what many event planners have come to realize at events with multiple generations in the audience—like it or not, you are now speaking to two (or three) groups of people whose attention is captured in different ways.

Such a vastly diverse audience requires an all-inclusive approach to event planning. Your message must appeal to potential donors from 25 to 85, and the methods used to engage them are multilayered and complicated. Here are six key points to remember the next time you present your fundraising message to a multi-generational audience.

1. Get to Know Your Audience

Gaining insight into the way each generation explores opportunities and solves challenges is key to understanding their decision-making process. Each approach is based on their life experience and the judgment and tools they’ve developed along the way.

The Traditional Generation grew up during the Golden Era of the 1950s. They want to digest the information from an informed lecturer and do well with a traditional lecture style format. Baby Boomers have a confidence born out of the counter-culture rebellion of their youth and tempered with the knowledge of a lifetime, while Gen Xers came of age when both parents worked outside the home. These two groups are confident in learning new things and can adapt to a variety of information channels. Tech-loving Millennials have grown up with smartphones and tablets. They digest information quickly with help from easily accessed resources and are driven to share their experiences across their social networks.

2. Learn the Way They Learn

There are more ways to acquire knowledge now than ever before and each generation has become accustomed to these new information streams in very specific ways.

You’ll find people who get the most out of a lecture-based presentation that combines a knowledgeable speaker with printed materials fall into the Traditional Generation and Baby Boomer demographics. Millennials are comfortable acquiring information through e-learning programs, new tech-based experience, like gaming or virtual reality, and collaborative groups that offer a more active, social environment. Gen Xers bridge the gap. They believe learning should be fun and prefer small group discussions and workshops but may not find the latest tech offerings, like gaming, to be an effective way to engage with your nonprofit’s mission.

3. Rely on the Basic Human Experience

How can you appeal to all these vastly different styles at once? Create an experience that speaks to the fundamentals in all of us. What drives us as humans? What is the basic desire that has brought your audience to your event? After you’ve answered these questions craft a basic message that can be packaged and delivered to your audience in different ways.

Host a lecture series with printed materials and memorable visuals for the Traditional Generation and Baby Boomers. Bring in experts for a panel Q & A or workshop session for the Gen X crowd and offer them plenty of opportunities to mix with their peers to share ideas. Millennials will want the convenience of having downloadable capabilities for information and an active social media presence with original content they can share through their networks.

4. Tell an Effective Story and Establish a Strong Visual Identity

A compelling story is a key to your mission’s success, so make sure it’s message is relatable on a human level that can be adapted to fit each group, while still retaining a cohesive brand identity.

While members of the Traditional Generation and Baby Boomers may be more likely to respond to research based on facts and figures, Millennials could find conventional data too dry for their tastes. Consider visual messages, with infographics, memes, videos, and audio content that is easily shared across the cyber world. Gen Xers will explore all that is offered and find the material that suits them best.

5. Meeting All Groups on Their Playing Field

Now that you’ve got your story written you need to think about how to utilize the many channels your audience taps into. Integrate your traditional media with your social media to create a program that contains several options for your audience to connect with, learn from, and pass on through their networks.

While there is a subsection of the Traditional Generation and Baby Boomers groups that prefer printed materials, advertising, and direct communication, don’t rule out appealing to them through social media as well. In a study conducted by the University of Minnesota called “Generational differences in the workplace”, they found that over 80% of the people in these groups are willing to learn new things and over 77% are using computers. GenXers are comfortable with social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram to connect and turning to blogs for a deeper understanding of the issues. And, of course, Millennials are already used to e-learning and are very active on their social networks and across multiple channels.

6. Relevant and Topical

Everyone is looking to your organization to be the expert on your issue so you must provide relevant, up to date information and a roadmap linking the donor to the success of your mission.

As mentioned, it’s best to connect with your audience with a story that is common to all of us. Gather your multi-generational audience using this tactic and work backward to the specifics of why you need their help. Everyone from the Traditional Generation to Millennials wants to hear how their contributions will benefit the work of your group and assurance that donations are being used effectively.

There is no one answer as to how to approach a multi-generational audience.

Adapting your event’s program to multiple learning styles is the most effective way to absorb information. Offering all generations on the lectures, discussion groups, peer interaction and feedback with a message that spans all methods is the best way to ensure your event’s goals for reaching new and returning donors will be met and your fundraising goals will be achieved.

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