Program Development and Optimization


Nov 2, 2016 | Marketing & Branding

Ask the average person what they think of when you say the words “senior living activities,” and chances are you’ll hear more than a few mentions of the word BINGO. It’s an unfortunate stereotype that countless senior living communities are battling through the implementation of more thoughtful, interesting programming (though to be fair, BINGO can be plenty of fun!).

Developing quality programming for your community, and optimizing it so it is always improving, can be a time-consuming process, but it’s a vital one. “Quality programming is a key differentiator that can help set you apart from the competition,” says SageAge Strategies Senior Vice President & Senior Consultant Karen Nelson Crolius. “It’s true that many senior living communities today are offering more innovative programming in an effort to draw seniors’ interest, but no matter what you’re doing, there’s always room for improvement.”

Today we’ll look at how to strategically plan your community programming, how to drive engagement and how to improve for the long haul.

Before: How to Plan Quality Programming

Step 1 – Talk to your community. It should go without saying that your greatest resource for knowing what your community wants is your community itself! Not sure where to start with program development? We bet your residents and their families will have plenty to say. What you hear will be anecdotal, but you’ll likely start to see patterns emerge. Or, you could provide options to your residents, and ask them to discuss which ones appeal to them, which ones don’t, and why. Some ways to gather this feedback include:

  • Focus groups – Sit down and have a small group discussion with a handful of residents at a time.

  • Interviews – Ask residents to have a cup of tea and chat about what they’d like to see at the community. Have some starting points to kick off the discussion: “Would you like X or Y more?”

  • Phone calls to family – Family members may offer insight into what their loved ones enjoy, insight that residents may not recall.

  • Prospective customer surveys – Depending on where they are in the sales funnel, your prospects could offer invaluable insight into what types of programming would entice them to sign with your community.

Additionally, you can implement these important discoveries into your community’s overall approach to resident care and connections. For example, training your staff to learn your residents’ life histories gives residents the opportunity to share their personal stories, hobbies, interests, inspirations and more with those who care for them. Implementing personal approaches like this not only enhances relationships between residents and staff, but also provides valuable insight into what your residents enjoy. You can use this knowledge to guide your program planning without any effort beyond what your associates do naturally.

Step 2 – Look beyond the program itself. While the content and what’s offered within your programming is key, there are plenty of other factors that will play into whether or not it succeeds. Location, timing, frequency and accessibility are all factors you must consider. You could develop the best programming around, but if it conflicts with many residents’ rehab time, visiting time or other opportunities, you’ll likely have an empty room. Be sure to consider the big picture, both inside and outside your community.

During: How to Drive Success

Step 1 – Hire and retain stellar staff. You’ve determined the type of programs and activities that residents and prospective residents want – that’s great! Now, you need someone who can deliver that programming in a way that will engage your community. The key here is finding individuals who have passion for this type of work. Chances are, you already have people on your staff who fit that criteria. Engage them in professional training to ensure they are up to speed with best practices and feel confident leading a group of seniors through your chosen programming. The instructor often makes all the difference.

Step 2 – Market your programming to your community. Just as you spend time, money and energy on marketing your community to the larger population, you must market your programming to your community. There are countless ways to do this, but some of the most effective are eye-catching flyers, announcements at key times such as meals, email reminders and word of mouth. Having a handful of residents who truly love your program will go a long way in spreading adoption, so encourage them to share their experience with their friends and invite them to join next time. You could even offer incentives for joining!

After: Never Rest on your Laurels

Step 1 – Engage your residents to hear their feedback. Once your program has been running for a while, it’s important to not just sit back and assume it will continue to run as it does now. Just as you sat down with residents prior to implementing your program, it’s important to sit down with them and get their feedback on how your programming could be improved. Another important group to survey at this point is residents who aren’t attending your events and programs. You may find that they have some easily surmountable objections that could be resolved with small but meaningful tweaks to the program. And above all else, be sure to keep track of attendance; you’re certain to see patterns.

Step 2 – Always be looking ahead. Like most industries, the senior living world is always changing. Where once was BINGO and crafts, now there’s tai chi, yoga, cultural celebrations and much more. Engage your staff to mine ideas for the next great program or event, and keep an eye on your competition for inspiration. Look into the resources available in the greater community, and see what educational, spiritual or social events you could design with the help of community partners (collaboration with local colleges is a great place to start!). Program development is one of the most fun, enjoyable aspects of running a senior living community, so keep the creative juices flowing!

By being strategic about your program development and its optimization, you can drive better engagement and improve your community’s image all at the same time.

Expert Metric Assessment to Support Continued Growth

If you are managing a senior living community and are in need of expertise in developing and assessing effective marketing and programming metrics, contact us today. We excel at helping communities identify what metrics matter most to them and how to create strategies that ensure growth.

SageAge Strategies is a multiple award-winning, strategic growth and marketing organization that operates exclusively in the senior living industry. For more information, please call or e-mail Adrienne Mansfield Straub at 570-601-1720 ext. 100 /

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