Category Archives: Young Professionals

Meetup: New Possibilities for Young Professional Outreach

While researching how museums are engaging young professionals I stumbled across this web page:

Organized by a young professional in L.A., this is an example of young professionals are creating their own opportunities to socialize at museums. Members can suggest Meetups at different L.A. museums and then experience different exhibits and educational programs together. Past Meetups for this group have included time for discussion of the exhibits, dance lessons and visits to exhibits that require hands-on participation. According to the group’s Meetup page, the next event is a special invitation to the Santa Monica Museum of Art for a private tour and gift shop discount.

According to the Meetup website, “Meetup’s mission is to revitalize local community and help people around the world self-organize.” There is a monthly fee for organizing a Meetup, around $12 dollars a month, which, unless this cost is split between members, can add up to a significant yearly commitment. If this cost is split among members though, Meetup could be a great option to explore museums and network without the price tag of a young benefactor program and opens up programming opportunities at all the local museums.

This is an interesting example of how young professionals are interested in visiting and socializing at museums. If you do a search for museum groups on the Meetup home page you’ll find museum groups in most major cities. If museums like the Santa Monica Museum of Art reach out to these groups by offering special tours and savings it could be another way for museums to forge a connection with this demographic.


Museums and Young Benefactor Programs (Part 3)

Miss Part 1 or Part 2?


Museums tend to use young benefactor programs as a framework for programming for younger adult audiences. Creating an air of exclusivity by offering special social and educational events, these programs connect young professionals to the museum through leadership and volunteer opportunities, and by using the funds raised through dues and parties to help meet the museum’s financial needs. Museums hope to cultivate lifelong learners and lifelong donors. Yet in the recent economic climate young professionals might not be as ready to make a financial committment to a young benefactor program even though they are interested in the networking and educational opportunities. Museums should still devote resources to engaging this audience through ongoing programming. If there is one thing I learned while working at the telefund at my undergraduate university, it was that alumni were more likely to donate money if they had a positive experience at the university than if they had not. Since museums do not have an alumni network they should try to create new ways to positively influence and connect with young professionals so that when the financial times improve, young professionals will immediately think of their local museums when they want to give back.

These are some recommendations for ways to make young benefactor programs more accessible and to fill a need for young professional programming.

A Different Kind of Model

The Young Professionals Tower Club at the Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga, TN calls itself “fundraising, social and career networking club which supports Creative Discovery Museum” a offers similar leadership and networking opportunities as other young benefactor programs. The difference is that there is no annual fee to join the Young Professionals Tower Club. Members become part of the fundraising team and help plan events to raise money to help children visit the museum free of charge and to support other educational opportunities. Members attend quarterly dinner meetings and take part in fundraisers like annual phon-a-thon parties, mystery dinners and parties. The Young Professionals Tower Club engages young professionals in similar social and leadership opportunities while using their willingness to volunteer as a way to help raise funds for the museum. Perhaps other museums could look at creating fundraising teams of young professionals, while still offering them exclusive educational programming.




Cut or Reduce Membership Funds

In response to the recent economic crisis, my undergraduate university’s alumni club made membership free for the first year, allowing recent grads to experience membership benefits without worrying about the extra cost. Museums could consider a similar opportunity for first time members of their young benefactor programs and either waive or reduce the annual fee. This might be especially appealing to recent college graduates looking to put down roots in a new city.

Create a Volunteer Corps

In addition to offering a young benefactors program, museums could offer a volunteer corps for young professionals. This group could help museums with their volunteer needs and in return, museums could organize happy hours after volunteer events to fulfill the social networking interest. Museums could also provide special educational programs that will help volunteers cultivate the knowledge they need for certain events and exhibits. These educational programs could  be very hands on and group work centered to give young professionals a different context for socializing while maintaining the museums mission.

Create a Young Professionals Advisory Board

Another way museums could connect young professionals in an ongoing manner would be to form an advisory board. An advisory board would give young professionals leadership opportunities and a say in some of the museum’s programming. As an example, The University of Michigan Museum of Art’s Student Programming and Advisory Board only requires a monthly time committment and gives students the opportunity to plan programs at the museum. Programs include an annual celebration and student performance nights. Advisory board members also get the opportunity to interview visiting artists for a podcast. This is something more museums could do for a young professional audience to engage them creatively and make them an active part of museums.

Young benefactor programs offer many amazing opportunities but museums need to find ways to engage young professionals who are not able to make that financial committment, in a meaningful way. As these suggestions show, there can be many ways to create sustained programming for this audience that will help them make positive memories of their experience with museums, something that could encourage them to become donors when they are more financially secure.

Museums and Young Benefactor Programs (Part 2)

Miss Part 1? find it here

Survey and Analysis: Spotlight on Several Young Benefactor Programs Across the Country

These programs represent just a small sampling of young benefactor programs. There are many more out there that follow a similar formula. These programs are targeted at young professionals ranging from 21-40 years old.

Smithsonian Young Benefactors
Washington, DC
Annual Fee: $70
Defined on their website as a “charitable, educational and cultural organization” the Smithsonian Young Benefactors program provides many opportunities for young professionals to mingle at happy hours around town, behind the scenes tours, and at the exclusive holiday party held at the Castle. Other membership perks include discounted Resident Associates educational programming, as well as 10% off purchases at Smithsonian gift shops and restaurants. In addition to the annual fee, which supports educational endeavors for children at the Smithsonian through the Culture4Kids foundation, members are encouraged to volunteer at various events and with the Office of Accessibility Services. Finally, Smithsonian YBs can find leadership opportunities within the program and shape the YB activities by joining one of the seven standing committees.

While some of the Smithsonian YB events are free, others, like the Jolly Holiday Party, have an additional admission price. This year the price is $70 for members and $95 dollars for nonmembers. The Jolly Holiday party is one of the events open to the general public.

On the blog The DC Ladies, new member Lindsay Boroush raves about her experiences with the Smithsonian Young Benefactors thus far, “Overall, joining this group was a great decision. Not only does it provide excellent networking opportunities” it also “reminds you of all the great museums you have access to living in DC.”


The Mint Museum Young Affiliates
Charlotte, NC
Annual Fee: $60 for the basic membership ($45 for students) plus $25 for the Young Affiliate add-on

The Mint Museum Young Affiliates membership includes free admission to The Mint and membership to 49 Southeastern museums, discounted or free tickets to Young Affiliates or Member events, volunteer opportunities and a 10% discount at the gift shop. The Young Affiliates sponsor monthly happy hours and a monthly educational series known as Artitudes. Artitudes activities relate to The Mint’s mission as an art museum through hands on artistic activities like art classes and wine tastings. Fundraising events like The Black and White Gala ($70 for members, $95 for nonmembers) and Derby Days help raise funds to make new acquisitions for The Mint Museum.


Guggenheim Young Collectors Council
New York, NY
Annual Fee: $500

This young benefactor group is for the serious art enthusiast. YCC events include special discussions, arts and tours, visits to artists’ studios and private collections and auction previews. A portion of the membership dues goes to purchasing art for the Guggeheim’s collection, with a focus on upcoming artists. Members receive discounts on museum purchases and programs and free admission to all the Guggenheim locations, among other perks. Members also benefit from discounts on fundraising events such as the Art Affair Chinatown 2010 event, for which tickets are $200 instead of $250.


Curious about more young benefactor programs? Check out the Spotlight on Young Friends of the Philadelphia Museum of Art


Young benefactor programs present a variety of ways for young professionals to get involved with museums. Whether you are interested in networking, volunteering, or learning, young benefactor programs seem to offer it all. For your annual fee you get access to unique programming, fun happy hours, fabulous parties, and the feeling of belonging to something great. These programs can be a fantastic way to get started in a new city, with lots of opportunities to make new friends and explore the cultural offerings of your new home. While the happy hours and galas may not be mission based and raise again the Is Alcohol the Answer question, the donation required aspects of the young benefactor programs do raise money for good causes and help support the museum of your choice.

However, there is an accessibility issue with all young benefactor programs, affordability. Most young benefactor programs call for a serious cash commitment, with expensive party fees on top of the $70-$500 dollar membership dues. Much of the educational programming, although discounted in some cases, requires even more payment. This might not be something that recent college graduates or young professionals dealing with a tough economy feel they can afford.

According to a 2009 Wall Street Journal article, 2009 college graduates entered “the toughest labor market in 25 years” and that “those who land jobs will likely suffer lower wages for a decade or more compared to those lucky enough to graduate in better times, studies show” (Murray). Young professionals are making less money and struggling to find their dream jobs.

Yet just because young professionals may not be able to afford membership dues, they still might be interested in the networking, educational, and volunteering aspects of the young benefactor programs. While the membership dues are important to the museum, there are still ways museums can engage this audience that might encourage donations in the future, spread awareness of each museum’s mission and make young professionals feel like they are part of the museum, even if they cannot be financially.

Part 3 will offer several recommendations for young benefactor programs.


Murray, Sara. “The Curse of the Class of 2009.” The Wall Street Journal [New  York] 9 May 2009, A1 sec. The Wall Street Journal. 9 May 2009. Web. 29 Nov.  2010. <;.

Science on Tap

Smithsonian National Zoological Park v Buffalo Museum of Science

Science on Tap events are growing in popularity among young professionals. However, how mission based and relevant these events are depends on the institution.  This post will take an unbiased look at two Science on Tap events at different institutions, along with other related events at said institutions.

Example 1:  National Zoo-Science on Tap

For the first hour of the event, attendees buy beer and wine from the cash bar and chat with zoo scientists and animal keepers. The second half of the event allows the attendees to submit questions that they want answered by the zoo staff panel.  Members of the panel from the last Science on Tap event included primate, giant panda, bird, and small mammal keepers, the curator of enrichment and training, and pathologists.

Other related events:

Brew at the Zoo-With the cost of their ticket, attendees receive a commemorative mug and samples from more than thirty microbrews.  There is also live music and food available for purchase.  Proceeds from Brew at the Zoo help support animal care, education, sustainability and conservation science.

Snore & Roar-An adult version of the popular zoo overnight program, this experience offers participants a two-hour tour, zoo hike, wine and cheese, a tent to spend the night in and breakfast the next morning.

Example 2: Buffalo Museum of Science-Science on Tap

Admission to Buffalo’s event includes a commemorative mug with ten drink tickets that are good for one beer tasting each. There is unlimited food sampling, home brewing demonstrations and live entertainment.  Attendees can also learn about the science of beer, the sociology of beer and the history of beer in Buffalo.  The museum’s permanent exhibit and galleries are also open during the event.

Other related events:

Star Lights, Drinks & Bites-An evening of stargazing mixed with wine and beer tasting, Star Lights, Drinks & Bites is strictly for the twenty-one and older crowd. Proceeds from the event go towards the museum and the Tifft Nature Preserve.

Museum’s Attic- This fundraiser gives participants a chance to view the museum’s collections that are not on public display.  Events include behind-the-scenes tours, a treasure hunt, auctions, and of course food and drink.



Can museum programs engage young professionals?

Museum programs catering to adults can be defined as an informal learning environment, attracting life long learners who are interested in combining, “their personal interests, professional expertise, and social consciousness” (Grenier 1). According to Marsick & Watkins, the information people learn from an informal environment may be incidental or unconsciously attained (26). However, in an informal learning environment an idea or insight may be purposefully probed based on an organization’s “hidden agenda” (Marsick & Watkins (Davis)26). In regards to museums, the hidden agenda would very much relate to the mission and vision statements from which the program was created.

I would like to briefly explore the types of informal learning posed by Marsick & Watkins and how these theories apply to museum programs. Self-directed learning, or SDL, is an adult learning concept that developed in the early 1960’s, which stemmed from androgogy (Merriam 4). Malcolm Knowles redefined androgogy, specifically for North America, in order to distinguish adult learning from pedagogy. Knowles’ version of androgogy evolved into an educational concept that is learner-centered, versus teacher-directed (Merriam 6). Whereas SDL, using the further refined definition of Tough*, is a type of adult learning that “occurs as part of adults’ everyday life, and that is systematic yet does not depend on an instructor or classroom” and recognizes “that learners become increasingly self-directed as they mature” (Merriam 8). In addition, the SDL is an independent learner that is encouraged by student led discussion (Merriam 10).

Although adult learning theories are extremely applicable to museum programming, the two fields did not start to merge until the late 20th century (Dudzinska-Przesmitzki 1) In addition, according to Sachatello-Sawyer, et al, many museums do not have an educator focused exclusively on adult programs (72). Instead educators are mainly focused on family or children programming.

The importance of lifelong learning in relation to adults is not only an issue concerning museums. For instance the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Towards Knowledge Society report, which studied life long learning’s importance on a global level, recognized that life long learning needs to be socially recognized and polices addressing life long learning need to “…incorporate these many different places and forms of learning, including self-education” (75). It is in museums where these lifelong learning goals can be achieved, however.

According to Sachetello-Sawyer, museum educators have been using concepts of adult learning theory to identify four types of adult learners: knowledge seekers, socializers, skill builders, and museum lovers (7-8). Various combinations of these categories are used to identify why adults participate in museum programs. Regarding the young professional demographic identified, Sachetello-Sawyer noted these adults, aged 18-35, are mainly concerned with establishing themselves in their careers and/or establishing families (5). As a result these personal focus areas are also areas of learning concentrations that a young professional would want to address in an informal learning environment (Sachatello-Sawyer, Fellenz and Burton 5).

Are adult museum programs being created to fully engage their targeted audience?

In the fall of 2010, I conducted an interview with Mark Davis, Membership Manager at the National Building Museum (NBM) in Washington, DC. Mark and his education team had been developing a new program targeted specifically for young, emerging professionals in the Construction, Architecture, and Design fields, or CAD professionals. Adhering to the importance of mission-based programs at NBM, Mark and his team were interested in creating a series of programs that would attract young CAD professionals beyond a primarily social event, such as a happy hour. Rather, Mark envisioned these events to be museum sponsored programs that would allow young CAD professionals to network and establish professional relationships. In addition, these young adults would be introduced the NBM, not only as a cultural institution that may be of interest, but also as a place outside of work where they could continue to further their careers.

In order to assist Mark and the NBM educational staff in creating a CAD young professional program, a focus group of 10-12 CAD professionals was established. The group voiced an interest in events that would allow networking among other CAD professionals and an opportunity to further discuss ideas and concepts concerning the built environment profession. The statements from the focus group are very much in line with the SDL adult learning theories, particularly in regards to networking and student led discussions. In addition, the focus group members exemplify a combination of adult learner types such as: knowledge seekers, skill builders, and socializers. The focus group also specifically acknowledged professional networking as a desired activity of these events, which correlates with the needs of the 18-35 age group that Sachatello-Sawyer, et al, recognized. Forming a focus group to help develop the CAD young professional program is significant in creating a meaningful program for the adult learners by educators understanding what adult learners want (Sachatello-Sawyer, Fellenz and Burton 105).

Based on the input of the focus group, Mark and the NBM education team decided to expand upon a popular lecture series offered to the public, “For the Greener Good.” The new CAD professional lecture series is scheduled to begin in January 2011. In addition to the lecture, a reception will be held for CAD professionals exclusively, with drinks and light food, after the lecture. The hope is that the lecturers will stay to mingle and discuss topics with CAD professionals. In addition, the inclusion of a reception offers NBM an opportunity to engage the CAD young professionals, by offering a more relax environment, which is also essential to meaningful adult programs. I believe that the NBM CAD young professional series exemplifies a type of museum program that offers mutual trust and mutual respect between the institution and the adult learner, an important emphasis in regards to adult learning recognized by Malcolm Knowles.

Davis, Mark. Director of Education National Building Museum (interview) Jennifer Paper. October 2010.
Dudzinska-Przesmitzki, Dana and Robin S. Grenier. “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and Never the Two Shall Meet: A Critical Review of Museum Studies and Adult Education Literature.” Adult Education Conference. 2008.
Grenier, Robin S. “How Do Museums Fit into our Notions of Adult Education?” Adult Education Conference. 2007.
Lackie, Robert J, John W LeMasney and Kathleen M Pierce. Teaching Generation M. Ed. Vibiana Bowman Cvetkovic and Robert J Lackie. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., n.d.
Marsick, Victoria J. and Karen E Watkins. “Informal and Incidental Learning.” New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 89.Spring (2001): 25-34.
Merriam, Sharan B. “Andragogy and Self-Directed Learning: Pillars of Adult Learning Theory.” New Directions For Adult and Continuing Education No. 89 (Spring 2001).
Sachatello-Sawyer, Bonnie, et al. Adult Museum Programs: Designing Meaningful Experiences. New York: Altamira Press, 2002.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. “Towards Knowledge Societies.” 2005.


Target Audience: Young Professionals

Although there are different types of museum programs for adults, many programs cater to adults within a family unit or retirees. Therefore, this study focuses on the target audience of young professionals and looks at how museums are designing programs for this specific demographic. This blog entry is also advocating that more museums should provide programming opportunities for this demographic and offers a starting point from which museum educators, students, or the general public can begin to create programs applicable to this demographic.

What is the definition of a young professional?

A young professional can be defined in several ways:

  • Age: a young adult can be defined as 18-25.
  • Generation: Generation M -although specifics vary, this generational classification usually refers to adults born in the early 1980s to 1990’s (Lackie, LeMasney and Pierce 3) Generation X -in general this refers to adults born in the late 1960’s to the late 1970’s.
  • Professional Experience: This classification expands the age range to include adults that may have switched careers although keeping in mind the relative definition of young.

For the purpose of this study, a young professional can be classified as a person in either Generation M or X, or within the age range of 25-35, and in the early stages of a career, 1-5 years.

Why create museum programs targeting young professionals?

  • Attendance: One of the stated benefits of a successful museum program is increased membership and return visitation (Sachatello-Sawyer, Fellenz and Burton 137).
  • Fundraising: Fundraising is an essential reality for most museum in the United States, and as generations age a new donor base needs to be realized. Although young professionals may not be able to give significant amounts now, establishing and maintaining a relationship with this group through programming can help establish a viable future donor base.
  • Untapped Demographic: It is becoming increasingly more common, particularly in the United States, for young professionals to put off getting married and/or having kids in order to focus on their careers. Therefore, members of this demographic would not necessarily partake in multi-generational programs usually geared towards families. Recognizing this distinction is essential for creating meaningful programs for young professionals.
Lackie, Robert J, John W LeMasney and Kathleen M Pierce. Teaching Generation M. Ed. Vibiana Bowman Cvetkovic and Robert J Lackie. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.
Sachatello-Sawyer, Bonnie, et al. Adult Museum Programs: Designing Meaningful Experiences. New York: Altamira Press, 2002.


Spotlight on Young Friends of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

An ideal mix of mission based and social programing, the main focus of the Young Friends of the Philadelphia Museum of Art is to promote the arts in the greater Philadelphia area.  Joining this group gives members discounts on events and an opportunity for social networking with likeminded young professionals.  Members have opportunities to meet with curators, artists, and collectors, while having special access to the museums collections though private tours.

Young Friends holds two main fundraising events each year: the Rodin Garden Party and the Winter Gala. The Rodin Garden Party is held every year at the end of summer. Guests pay for a night in the Rodin Museum’s historic garden, enjoying art, cocktails, and a raffle. The Winter Gala is also an annual event. Guests are treated to VIP tours of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, speeches, a raffle, and food and drinks. Members also have the opportunity to join the planning committees for these events. Funds raised through these Young Friends events are used to support new acquisitions for the museum, for conservation and preservation of existing collections, and educational and outreach programming.

In addition to these fundraising events, Young Friends enjoy several social events such as The Young Friends Holiday Party and Young Friends Fridays. The Annual Holiday Party is an event where the Young Friends can come together to socialize, enjoy complimentary drinks, and a Candy Cane Raffle. Young Friends Fridays are a part of the museum’s Art After 5 events. At these events, wine, beer and cocktails are available at the bar in addition to light fare. These events take place every Friday featuring international music and emerging jazz artists. During Art After 5, select galleries in the museum are also open.

For only an additional 50-dollar add on to membership, the Young Friends group is a great mix of social and mission based events.

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