Engaging Active Adults

By Barbara Heller
In June 16, 2012

One of the great quandaries for park and recreation agencies is how to connect with the active adult population, or generally speaking, the 50 and 60 year olds. So frequently I hear from park and recreation agencies all around the country about their lack of success in engaging the active adult population into their program and service offerings.

Generally, program offerings are skewed heavily toward youth programming. In agencies I have worked with fully 70-80% of programs offered are geared toward youth ages 12 and under. I shake my head when I read a program guide that offers programs for seniors 50 and over. Really? A senior is 50? As one representing this age group, I hardly consider myself a senior.

As an industry, we need to be more creative about how to engage the active adult audience. Generally, program staff will offer a variety of programs to see what will stick. And, very few programs do. A common refrain I hear is “We tried to offer classes, but they didn’t go.”

First of all, do we need to reframe our brand and image from being a youth oriented agency? Do active adults stay away because park and recreation agencies are for kids? Secondly, do we need to do some hard thinking about how to better engage the 50-60 year olds? Should we be focusing on social connections such as meetups for active adults? Or competitive sports for the aging population?

“Running USA, a nonprofit organization that promotes the sport, counted 13 million finishers in road races in 2010, up from 5.2 million in 1991 and 500,000 in 1976. Much of the rise comes from aging baby boomers, building their stamina like a retirement nest egg. In 2010, 45 percent of all finishers were 40 or older; in 1991, the percentage was 35 percent, in 1976 only 28 percent.” >> read the New York Times article

The largest age segment growth in road races is the active adult age segment. Master swimming is seeing phenomenal growth. There are more participants involved in walking and hiking than any other activity. Should we have a staff person dedicating time toward walking and hiking activities? Should we have a walking/hiking recreation coordinator? Should we start launch groups with active adults who can guide us in developing services, people in the community who are known as connectors and will help move the image of the program from the kid friendly stereotype?

One effort worth pursuing is developing partnerships with organizations and companies that cater to this market, such as AARP. Some agencies have developed meaningful relationships with community colleges in offering programs targeted specifically to this age group. Others have created meaningful volunteer opportunities and provide rewards with service and program discounts.

The answer to this conundrum is to think differently about service provision for this age group. It’s not about guessing what these folks want and trying out a few programs to see how they go. It is about gaining better market intelligence about this customer group and offering services they truly want such as ways to connect socially, compete athletically, and provide lifelong learning opportunities.

...is determined to give government a good name - one agency at a time. Her innovative approach to the planning process has delivered results in organizations across the U.S.

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