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Creativity Matters: The Arts and Aging Toolkit
photo of man playing a saxophone (Kairos)

6.4: Marketing to Participants

Whether your program focuses on older adults living in the community or within a residential facility, you have to attract participants. Program design should incorporate a marketing plan. Like planning, partnering, and funding, marketing doesn’t stop after the first program session; confirmed participants may lose interest, become ill, or change their minds. Marketing also helps increase the demand among older adults for arts and aging programs—and that’s good for your program and for the field as a whole.

Though marketing can have different purposes, this section focuses only on recruiting participants. Just as you diversify revenue sources, include a variety of strategies in your plan. Marketing strategies address where and how to market. Frequently, the “where” determines the “how.” In a senior center, adult day program, or residential facility, personal communication—phone calls, conversations, and presentations—is the best technique, but it does require a significant time commitment.

This section explores:

Getting the Word Out

The first step in getting the word out is to activate a group of stakeholders who can help you identify and reach potential participants. These stakeholders can include

To reach potential participants and other stakeholders, direct contact is best: a telephone call, an in-person visit, or a presentation. As an incentive, offer a “friends” discount. For ongoing programs, give a current participant a discount or gift for getting another person to register or join the group. (See Tips for Getting the Word Out.)

A word about computers: Using e-mail or Web sites to reach potential older adult participants probably is not effective. Many in this age group left the workforce before e-mailing and surfing became a way of life, and still others are not able to afford the technology. The Internet will, though, be an influential tool for marketing to baby boomers.

Community Organizations

After you have activated your stakeholders, turn to other organizations and individuals in the community that you might have contacted during external assessment—for example, churches, libraries, continuing-care retirement communities, senior centers, literary clubs, National Urban League affiliates, hospitals, doctors, arts organizations, area agencies on aging, adult day programs, and assisted living facilities. If your program is intergenerational, add community centers, out-of-school programs, and schools to the list. (Of course, some may already be partners or funders.) Cost-effective ways of reaching your expanded list include a newsletter, press release, catalogue of programs, or a flyer and/or brochure distributed through the mail or dropped off with the director or leader.


To cast as wide a net as possible, don’t overlook traditional media outlets, such as arts sections of newspapers, community-access cable stations, local television or radio public service announcements, and talk shows. Smaller community newspapers will be more receptive than larger dailies. Announcing your program is helpful; printing a longer piece is even better. Supplement your press release with information that makes it easy for reporters to write an in-depth article: Outline the story, provide anecdotes from older adults affected by the program, and send photos or other graphics. Remember to include a “hook”; for ideas, look at stories in the publication that you are targeting. You can also pay for space in newspapers and publications with an older adult or local community readership to announce informational meetings, class schedules, open rehearsals, performances, and exhibits.

Local Businesses

Ask local businesses for help in getting the word out, particularly those that provide services to older adults (such as barber shops and beauty salons, restaurants, pharmacies, and independent shoe stores and bookstores) and those that are related to the arts (such as musical instrument retailers, art supply stores, and galleries). Business owners may allow you to put up a poster or include a flyer about your program in their mailings to customers. Another method is to leave a rack with brochures next to the cash register. The
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Southern Maine asked members to “adopt-a-rack.” Each volunteer was responsible for making sure his or her rack was always full of brochures.

Information Booths

Another marketing method is to pay for a booth or table at a community fair or festival, home show, or health and fitness expo. You can distribute informational materials and display art created during your program, and you can demonstrate your process (for example, a mini-performance) and invite passers-by to participate.

Motivating Participants

If you talked with potential participants during external assessment, you have a pretty good idea of what might motivate them to register or join a class or session. Appeal to what it means to age productively, stressing the opportunity to make new friends and contribute to the community. Cite specific benefits related to outcome goals, such as skill development, mental and physical exercise, and having fun.

Barriers to Participation

Recalling the discussion of instructional design and establishing trust, it is worth noting that some older adults are reluctant to participate because they feel that they have no artistic ability or nothing of value to contribute to the process or to others in the group. If you get them in the door, you can overcome this barrier. Once you have them, involve them immediately or they will walk away. If the program is performance-based and an older adult is reluctant to perform, identify other tasks, such as turning pages for the accompanist, building sets, sewing costumes, prompting lines, or setting up the room. Chances are this person will soon be on stage.

Another barrier for older adults is transportation. Some are reluctant to venture beyond their usual haunts like home and the senior center. And many communities don’t have reliable public transportation. Encourage participation among this group by taking the program to them or providing them with transportation to you.

Using Your Assets

Participants, Teaching Artists, caregivers, and the program itself can contribute greatly to a marketing campaign. In general, they are going to be most helpful to a program that is already up and running. Don’t assume that people will automatically talk to others about the program. Ask them to do so, and make it easy for them by providing talking points and promotional materials.


Encourage them to talk about the program with friends and to make presentations with you. Having someone who can speak directly to peers is an effective technique. Participants can also provide outreach by themselves; for example, a typical strategy of Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes is for member students to talk with community groups about their experiences and share an informational video created by the national resource center.


The impact of your program on older adults’ quality of life is a powerful marketing message. Promote benefits orally and in writing using clear, compelling language and illustrative photographs and images. Show draft language to participants and partners to see if you are describing your program and its impact effectively and accurately.

The program itself is an important marketing tool. Suggestions for making the most of marketing opportunities include:

Teaching Artists

The professionalism and experience of the teaching artist who facilitates a program are assets in marketing. Include the artist’s resume and images of his or her art in your presentations and written promotional materials. Describe one or two fun exercises that the artist leads in a typical session. Better yet, invite the artist to join you at community events where you are promoting the program.


In a residential facility, senior center, or adult day program, staff and family members who see firsthand the effect of your program on older adults are great advocates. They can recruit additional residents or members and chat with family members or colleagues at other facilities. Remember, however, that sometimes staff and family members underestimate what older adults can accomplish. Encourage those who are supportive and have a person-centered philosophy to spread the word. Such a philosophy values each person for his or her ability, vitality, wisdom, and experience.

Creating Materials

Promotional materials must be professional and attractive. The image that you convey in writing reflects your values and the quality of your work. Good graphic design and printing don’t have to be expensive or fancy to be effective. Strive for a clean look with minimal text and images. Solicit feedback on the design from participants, staff, and partners. Remember that anything in writing should be easy to read for people with low vision. This means 12-point type and high contrast between background and type color. Ask some people with low vision to read your materials to make sure you have it right. Use disability access symbols so that everyone knows your program and facility are accessible.

In addition to looking good and being accessible, your materials must be well written and free from typographical and other errors. You may also want to translate them into other languages. More important, they should emphasize productive aging and not perpetuate myths of aging.

The name of your program matters, too. At one facility client of EngAGE: The Art of Active Aging, for example, the social group of residents over age 80 is called the Wisdom Council. “Nomenclature is really important,” explains Vice President Maureen Kellen-Taylor. “A Wisdom Council says so much more than if it were called the Cocoa Group: it gives purpose, that being alive matters. And that is the key.”

Marketing materials include:

Photographs, videos, and DVDs are particularly effective at conveying the benefits of your program to participants. Videos and DVDs should be designed to have a long shelf life.

Key Points about Marketing to Participants


Download This Chapter


Appendix 1:
SWOT Analysis

Template Program Logic Model

Sample Program Logic Model

Appendix 2:
Project Timeline Formula and Curriculum Planning Format

Appendix 3: Fundraising Tools
Kairos Dance Theatre Brochure

New Horizons Budget

Kairos Dance Theatre Support Letters (1) (2)

Funding Proposal (Stagebridge)

Appendix 4: Marketing Tools
New Horizons Music Brochure