Age-limited events – Are they right for your meetup community?

“Seniors Only” by tobo, on Flickr

After several requests over the years, we here at Nashville Hiking Meetup have recently been posting events geared around commonalities between members. These mainly have been focused on members of a certain age range.

I started by posting a 20s/30s hike, about which I received comments such as “Are you a dating site now?” and “I’m no lawyer but I suspect this is a form of age discrimination…Wait until ACLU and AARP find out about you!”

Well, it’s not illegal, but it did get people stirred up.

The 20s/30s hike wasn’t extremely well attended compared to our typical event, but all that indicates to me is that our demographic skews older (which I knew already). All the more reason, to me, to post more 20s/30s hikes. We need to keep backfilling our membership with younger hikers so that our entire membership average age just doesn’t keep getting older.

Then I posted a 50 and older hike, and it quickly received record numbers of RSVPs. By all accounts the event was smashing. We’ve got another 50+ hike coming up this weekend and those RSVP numbers are gangbusters, and we’ve got a 40+ hike posted.

What’s interesting to me is that everyone grumbled when we posted a 20s/30s hike but loved when we posting the 50+ plus hike. I wonder if I had scheduled them in reverse (50+ first) what the reaction would have been.

After I announced the 40+ hike, one of my very active members posted on Facebook, “What is with these age related hikes..40+ 50+….doesn’t seem like a good idea to me to put restrictions on who should sign up and who shouldn’t….”

This started a polite debate. As a rebuttal I mentioned many accepted examples where institutions have carved out special groups and events based on commonalities*:

  • Churches have youth groups, singles only Bible studies, and married couples retreats
  • Chambers of commerce have junior chambers
  • The Nature Conservancy has a Gen-C (Generation Conservation) which is limited to members in their 20s to 40s
  • Heck, even Nashville Hiking Meetup regularly hosts New Members Hikes and no one seems to complain

Why does this practice happen? Because these are special interest groups, and sometimes, but not always, members with similar ages or life event experiences like to get together for events.

So what’s to be said about this exercise? The kerfuffle was over age-limiting events and I think age makes some people bristle more than another commonality. 

Lesson learned? Try out new event themes to keep things fresh. Maybe you’ll spark a debate in the process.

What are your lessons learned? Let me know in the comments.

 

* It’s also interesting that we were debating the merits of 4 events out of 1,354 total past and future events for Nashville Hiking Meetup. That’s .3%. Three out of one thousand.

See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.

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