More and more museums are offering young benefactor or young associates programs as a way to engage a young professional audience. For a yearly membership fee these groups offer swanky parties, networking opportunities and exclusive programing. Young benefactor programs help museums cultivate new and hopefully, lifelong donors among younger audiences.
In a 2006 New York Times article, speaking about the MoMA’s Junior Associates, Angela Goding said “”There have been many instances of J.A.’s who have gone on to become major museum benefactors” and “this group inspires a real feeling of loyalty and a sense of camaraderie among its members, and this carries on naturally towards a deeper involvement with the museum” (Vachon). The hope for the future financial stability of the museum is definitely at the heart of young benefactor groups. In the same article, Thomas Hoving a former director of the Met noted that the young benefactor groups are a way for museums to reach out to the youth, and compared museums to universities which have the almost automatic financial support of alumni, something museums lack (Vachon). Like alumni clubs and universities, young benefactor programs aim to generate a sense of belonging and connection to the museum. In return for their monetary support, young professionals are treated to a wide array of exclusive programming, some of which is more educational and mission-based than others. Although the main draw for some young professionals is, according to the New York Times article, that the museum sponsored events serve as “a place to meet eligible partners from the right social set under the cover of cultural philanthropy” or as “really inconspicuous bar tab,” young benefactor programs can be a vehicle for mission based programming that provides lifelong learning opportunities to museum supporters (Vachon).
This three-part series will look at several young benefactor groups across the country, examining the overall opportunities and limitations of these groups, and provide several suggestions for museums to consider when engaging a young professional audience.
Vachon, Dana. “Cocktails for Arts: Museums Compete for Young Patrons.” The New York Times. 12 Jan. 2006. Web. 29 Nov. 2010.