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You've Attracted Seniors, Now Keep Them Engaged

You spent a few years researching what type of wellness center to build, then invested lots of dollars to create a center you can proudly call your own. You've nurtured an environment that is appealing, accessible and not intimidating to anyone — including seniors. Best of all, you've created a niche to differentiate your business from your competitors.

In this facility, not only have you purchased the best age-friendly equipment on the market, but you've also recruited staff with expertise in serving older adults. The cutting-edge programs offered in your center serve all levels of function, and you've built a wellness culture embracing all six dimensions of wellness (spiritual, physical, social, intellectual, vocational and emotional). Your marketing campaign reflects your mission and communicates a message designed to attract and inspire potential older members while reinforcing the purchase your current members have made. You've even sent your sales team and support staff to age-sensitivity training.

Despite doing all the right things, though, your center is losing members. To add insult to injury, participation levels have slowly declined. So what's gone wrong?

You've probably second-guessed every decision you've made since the start and wondered if the numbers are declining because of your competitor, your location or your staff. Although there's no shortage of questions you might ask, the most important ones at this stage are, “What can I do now?” and, “What is my center missing?” The answer, in a word, is engagement.

We've all experienced the feeling of being engaged in something that's captured our attention. The book we couldn't put down. The movie we didn't want to miss a moment of, despite needing to go to the rest room. Fans of the television show “24” know these feelings well, along with the anticipation of waiting each week to see what will happen to Jack Bauer.

Interestingly enough, according to many experts, each of these markets (books, movies and television) struggles to keep its audience today, as new technologies and channels of distribution have created competition that is changing the industry. Yet when a product engages the audience, it can produce hundreds of millions of dollars. Look no further than the success of the Harry Potter books and the “Lord of the Rings” films for proof of this.

It doesn't matter if you get everything else right if you aren't able to engage your members. Without engagement, your facility will remain a “center” and not a place these individuals have to visit, a place they anticipate going to. The result will be a continued erosion of your client base and participation levels.

So how do you get your members engaged in what your center has to offer? Make your offerings so compelling they will want to get involved. Encourage your staff to find out what really interests these adults, then create a program with these elements built in. Make each experience in your facility unique and engaging.

Just like a good teacher who engages students by involving them in the learning experience, your staff can involve your members in their experiences at your center. Invite these older adults to an orientation session where they create outlines of their ideal programs. (Think about college students picking the classes they want to attend.) By creating experiences that engage your clients, you will likely find that your retention and participation levels increase as people tend to support programs and organizations with which they feel engaged.

Colin Milner is chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging. An award-winning writer, Milner has authored more than 100 articles on aging-related issues. He can be reached at

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