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In the agency world, “creative” is a department, a role, a title. It’s the job I signed up for a long time ago, for all the reasons you might expect — the daily opportunity to do something different, solve new problems, tell new stories. To be overtly “creative.” But after 25+ years in the agency world, one thing I know for sure is that creativity isn’t only found with our creatives. Every member of our team exercises creativity in their role every day in one form or another.

Because each of us here at Varsity has a unique perspective on the work that we do to support our clients, and the work our clients do to support their residents, I’ve asked the team to celebrate National Creativity Day by sharing their thoughts, insights or favorite quotes on “creativity” and what it means to them. From our team to yours, Happy National Creativity Day!

“Creativity means looking at the world through your own lens. Being willing to look beyond the obvious and consider the ‘what ifs?’ ”

—Derek Dunham, Vice President Client Services

“Creativity is a way for me to express myself … and then to reflect.”

—Jodi Christman, Digital Production Director

“For me, creativity is about trying new things and thinking outside the box.”

—Jackie Stone, Sales & Marketing Consultant

“For me, creativity is about freedom.”

—Joe Barry, Senior Art Director

“Creativity is about letting your mind run free and exploring without boundaries. It’s when you look at everyday things in completely new ways. That’s when you come up with the fun stuff, the weird stuff, the really good stuff. Albert Einstein said it best: ‘Creativity is seeing what others see and thinking what no one else ever thought.’ ”

—Erica Reed, Senior Copywriter

“Scott Adams said, ‘Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.’ So much of being creative is not being afraid to make mistakes, to put any and every idea out there. Collaboration gives us the opportunity to sift through those ideas to see what inspires others and truly rises to the top.”

—Reneé Kelly, Art Director

“Creativity is thinking, being or doing in an original way.”

—Natalie Groeger, Senior Account Strategist

“Creativity is seeing the world from a perspective different from your own.”

—Jace Dawson, Project Manager

“Creativity means looking at a problem differently and coming up with a unique, out-of-the-box solution. And making things prettier. :)”

—Emily Runyon, Account Strategist

“I’ve always liked the Pablo Picasso quote, ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.’”

—Ellie Weaver, Account Strategist

“While most people think of creativity as artistic expression or the creation of something, in my world, creativity is being able to look at a situation, question whether it can be better, and come up with solutions to simplify or clarify a process. In many cases, it’s not invention, but rather re-invention.”

—Amy Beamer Murray, COO & Partner

“Creativity reflects the moment when we discover something new — sometimes through novel experiences, sometimes through the filter of prior knowledge — but always the unfolding of a greater understanding that connects each of us to unexpected possibilities.”

—Bill Mulligan, Account Director

“Creativity means being able to tell an authentic story in words or imagery.”

—Jodi Gibble, Sales & Marketing Consultant

Guest post by Mary Muñoz, Senior Managing Director, Ziegler

This is certainly an interesting time for senior living — we’re moving away from COVID-19, although we’re not quite past it yet. The pandemic has taught us a lot about where we’re headed in the future, but there are also a lot of industry trends that have remained constant through it all. Let’s take a look at what’s trending in senior living right now.

Industrywide Growth and Consolidation

What hasn’t changed with COVID-19 is the population wave we have coming, with a surge in the 75- to 85-plus cohort. And with that, we still have many drivers that make our business an attractive one. For starters, there are those still living at home who don’t have anybody there to take care of them during the day. We have the dangers of social isolation among older adults. And there are those who can’t afford caregiving.

In addition, we’re seeing a consolidation trend across the industry. Why is this happening? Almost every transaction we’ve seen has involved a CEO retirement. We’re facing a labor shortage in care and dining, along with a shortage on the C-suite side, as fewer people are coming into the senior living business, although larger organizations have some advantages in recruitment and career path offerings.

Ongoing Labor Market Challenges

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the labor market a bit. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting almost 1.2 million annual job openings in senior living. Worldwide, we’ve already crossed the line in the past couple of years that there are fewer people under 5 than there are those 65 and older.* That means we literally won’t have the bodies to do things the way we’ve done in the past. So, we have to find ways to reinvent how work is getting done in our communities.

The pressures are coming from many different directions. We’ve got financial struggles, and the changing demographics of who’s coming into the workforce. Government reimbursement is under pressure, which in turn affects health care worker wages. The pandemic caused clients to lose employees because they refused to be vaccinated or simply burned out. Immigration was disrupted and a lot of the caregivers we get from across the border were affected. And then we have the lasting issue that senior services isn’t exactly a sexy line of work.

Stressors in Skilled Nursing

For post-acute care, I want to highlight the compounding challenges in the skilled nursing environment. COVID-19 definitely exhausted and burned out employees. There’s also the need for private rooms, which many communities did not offer pre-COVID. And a lot of the nursing communities are old, with declining occupancy, in part because we didn’t have assisted living and memory care until recent years. So, there were some people who didn’t need to be there and could be taken care of in a less acute setting.

All of these factors are leading to a downsizing of skilled nursing, and in some cases the transition of skilled nursing rooms to high-acuity assisted living. In fact, we’ve counted 35 Life Plan Communities around the country that have eliminated skilled nursing from their continuums in favor of high-acuity assisted living.** And there are many new communities being built right now that have no skilled nursing.

Technology as a Partner for Smarter Aging

There are many developing technologies that serve seniors in various ways. We’ve certainly had a dramatic rise in telehealth during the pandemic. Beyond that and electronic medical records — which most already have in place — there are resident engagement technologies, including dining reservations, menus and activities. There’s also been a focus on predictive technology, not only tracking footsteps but also predicting falls by tracking gait. That’s in addition to cognitive brain solutions, smart home technology and even robots. While robots probably won’t cure the labor shortage, we have seen communities using robots to deliver plated meals and bus plates in dining venues, for example.

These four takeaways are just the beginning of what’s trending as we emerge from the pandemic. For more information, feel free to subscribe to the Ziegler e-newsletter, refer to our white paper about health care technology or message me at mmunoz@ziegler.com.

*Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Percentage of World Population Under Age 5 and Aged 65 and Over: 1950-2050

**Source: Ziegler Investment Banking

What is Artificial Intelligence?

AI (Artificial Intelligence) refers to the ability of a machine to perform tasks that would normally require human intelligence, such as decision-making, pattern recognition, and language processing. It involves the development of systems that can perform tasks that would typically require human intelligence, such as recognizing patterns in data, making decisions based on data, and understanding natural language.

This description above was actually written by AI itself. The broad definition of AI is that it’s a machine doing something that would traditionally depend on humans to execute. AI works independently and does not require our input to run. That doesn’t mean humans didn’t help build it, but that it operates autonomously without any human interaction. The ways we can leverage this technology are, at their core, in decision-making, pattern recognition, and language processing. Today I’d like to talk about how those things can be applied in the healthcare and senior living spaces.

Applications of AI in Healthcare

AI is being used in healthcare to help diagnose diseases, improve patient outcomes, and reduce costs. For example, AI algorithms are being used to analyze medical images to aid in the early detection and diagnosis of cancers and other diseases.

Here are a couple of examples:

Covera Health is utilizing proprietary technology that combines advanced data science and AI to provide practitioners with more-accurate symptom data when making a decision that will have a major impact on a patient’s life.

PATH AI creates AI-powered technology for pathologists. Their machine learning algorithms help pathologists analyze tissue samples and make more-accurate diagnoses.

As we think about the broader healthcare space, there are many applications of AI currently, ranging from process to clinical improvement. All of those same advantages will continue to trickle down into aging services. A lot of the benefits are already being pushed into the clinical services side of senior living. One big area has been fall prevention, and that is some of the work we’ve done at WildFig, which is very exciting. But the benefits of AI go far beyond just the clinical support.

Applications of AI in Aging Services

There are so many interesting ways that AI can impact all of senior living — not just on the clinical side, but in operations, sales and marketing.

 Health and Wellness Monitoring
AI-powered devices monitor the health and wellness of seniors in real-time. This helps seniors stay independent for longer and ensures that any health issues are addressed promptly.

The tools and sensors used in this monitoring are oftentimes expensive, but can have very dramatic results. Health and wellness monitoring is a combination of new innovations in the internet of things, as these devices can monitor the health and wellness of seniors in real-time. There’s an incredible amount of value in that.

Fall Detection and Prevention

Al technologies can detect and predict fall events, which reduces the risk of injury and provides peace of mind for both seniors and their loved ones.

At WildFig, we have been working on fall detection and prevention for several clients. Not every application of AI has to be a part of a tool or device. AI works in the background, and we’ve been working on back-end ideas, passively collecting data, whether through wellness programming, wearable devices like Fitbits, or even your phone. There’s an enormous amount of data out there that can be leveraged. As we all know, falls are a huge challenge that limit active living and compromise life spans as a result. So we don’t only want to monitor the falls themselves, but get ahead of them beforehand. We’ve worked with a number of communities to gather information about individuals’ gaits. Tracking that data regularly can be valuable in aggregate. If you can monitor the risk week over week, and start to see the degradation of an individual’s gait weeks, or even months, before a fall actually happens, it’s so powerful.

Personalized Care

The scalability of AI can be leveraged to personalize care plans for seniors based on their individual needs and preferences. This can improve the quality of care and help seniors maintain their independence.

AI is exceptionally good at keeping track of lots of the details humans would normally miss. Actively monitoring and looking for changes in weight, number of calls, and other factors can create an enormous amount of personalization, and change the quality of care we can provide.

Social Engagement

AI is increasingly seen as a tool that can help seniors stay connected with family and friends, reducing isolation and loneliness. We can track social engagement so we can be sure that seniors aren’t getting isolated.

Predictive Analytics

This broad category of algorithms can be used to analyze data from communities to identify trends and predict potential issues. This allows everyone from providers to caregivers to improve quality of life and be more effective with limited resources.

If we look at the potential of predictive analysis in AI, it doesn’t only have to do with residential experience, but also operational experience. If you can automate things like lead scoring and the path analysis to conversion, the process can provide a whole wealth of tools that can power what we can do, and how we can operate our organizations in more effective ways. Using predictive analytics, we can personalize everything from the resident experience to sales and marketing.

Interested in learning more about using AI for predictive analysis at your community? Contact me at kpurcell@wildfigdata.com.


Google Analytics GA4 will be the only way to track website activity after July 1.

Don’t worry, we have the details you need and options to make your old data useable.

By now you’ve probably seen this banner or heard that if you use Google Analytics you need to migrate to GA4. If you haven’t, get in touch with your agency of record to make the move to GA4 today!

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About GA4

Q. Who is affected?
A. Any property (website, software, app) using Google Analytics’ Universal Analytics (UA).

Q. Why do I need to be concerned?
A. GA3, more commonly known as Universal Analytics, is going away. Three things will occur when that happens:

  1. UA data will stop collecting on July 1, 2023.
  2. You will lose UA data. (No specific date has been given, other than October 14, 2023.)
  3. If you haven’t already set up GA4, you will need to do so in order to continue to track and measure website activity

Q. Why is Google doing this?
A. Google is moving toward Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the next-generation measurement solution, because it takes a privacy-first approach to follow people the way they use technology today.

Privacy was just a glimmer in the eyes of web visitors when UA was released over a decade ago. Now more protections are expected and included. For example, GA4 tracks first-party cookies — meaning cookies placed by a website’s owner, not someone other than that site’s owner — thereby protecting visitors from invasive third-party cookies, which pose a security risk.

When Universal Analytics was created, we primarily explored sites using just one device (usually a desktop or laptop). Consumers are now more likely to start a website journey on their smartphone while watching TV, then move to a bed cuddled up with their tablet, and conclude their journey the next day on their laptop. GA4 is built to capture this entire cross-device consumer journey, giving marketers a complete and insightful picture of their online habits.

Q. What happens to my old UA data?
A. Google will only store your UA data for a period of time (not yet disclosed by Google at the time this article was published) and then poof, it is gone. To retain historical data, Google recommends that you export it. Can you imagine looking through spreadsheets to glean insights? Even in a pivot table would be a fast “no” from many people.

Many people started to record GA4 data by July 1, 2022, to have access to year-over-year data on the GA4 dashboard. However, if you didn’t — or if you want data that precedes GA4 (before October 14, 2020) — we have a solution for you.

Data expert/dashboard options

Before you start worrying about your data going to the spirit in the sky, relax — we have you covered. Varsity has partnered with our sister company, WildFig, which offers three GA4 solutions to fit your marketing needs and budget. Our plans capture data from the beginning of your Google Analytics history until the current day of export. Two options include an easy-to-use dashboard that displays standard metrics.

Standard metrics included (old GA terminology)

  • Users
  • New users
  • Sessions
  • New sessions %
  • Average session duration
  • Pageviews
  • Pageviews per session
  • Bounce rate
  • Goal completions (if applicable)

Additional metrics may be added to the dashboard for a one-time fee.

Filtering options

  • Date range
  • Data will be aggregated to a monthly granularity
  • Medium (Organic, PPC, Direct, etc.

Data export/dashboard cost

$500         Straight export of historical UA data

$2,920     Export and historical UA data dashboard + $50/month for dashboard storage/server costs

$8,750     Export and historical UA and live GA4 data in one dashboard + $50/month for dashboard storage/server costs

If you would like to see a demo or learn more, contact kpurcell@wildfigdata.com.

If you have not yet migrated to GA4, the train is leaving the station soon. Make sure that you make the move before July 1 in order to keep from losing your organization’s valuable data, and continue to be able to track and measure activity from your website visitors.

Resource: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/11583528?hl=en&sjid=2711946442297389965-NA

Guest post by Andrew Lock, author of  Walt Disney’s Way: How to Build a Better Business Using the Magical Marketing Strategies of Walt Disney. We were fortunate to have Andrew as the guest speaker at Varsity’s 150th Sales & Marketing Roundtable.

How My Journey Began

My journey with Disney started when I was a young child. I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room and picked up a Reader’s Digest, which had an article about Walt Disney. His story really resonated with me, to the extent that I’ve studied Walt and The Walt Disney Company ever since. Throughout my life I’ve done a deep dive into understanding the practical lessons from Walt, who has been established as an incredible visionary and dreamer. For those in sales and marketing, there are so many lessons to learn from him.

Disney Today

Disney is an absolute Goliath of a business. They own 12 theme parks around the world, 40 hotels and resorts, movie studios, record companies, TV stations, cruise lines and more. Their annual revenue is $45,000,000,000.

What’s unique about Disney is that not only are they one of the most profitable companies in the world, they are one of the top five most admired companies.

“But Andrew, What Does My Business Have in Common with Disney?”

Since you are in senior living, you may be asking yourself, “What does my business have in common with a Disney theme park?” If you boil down the core aspects of running a business, you can identify a number of things that you have in common:

  • You want to stay profitable
  • You want happy clients
  • You want to see enthusiastic, engaged and loyal staff
  • You face competition and need to stand out from the crowd
  • You continually face rising costs

The key is looking at the principles of what Disney does well, and adapting those into your business.

Principle 1: Deliver a Positive and Memorable Experience

The first principle is most important and it encompasses everything. For many years, customer service was the highest priority for a business. Now we’ve moved beyond it, and experience is the biggest thing that can separate us from other businesses. Customers might not be consciously thinking that they want an experience, but subconsciously, they do.

If we wow customers with a positive and memorable experience, then they will tell their friends. That is the best form of recommendation in any space and the easiest sale you’ll ever have. Walt knew that too, which is why 97% of visitors at Disney are repeat visitors.

Example: Droid Depot at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Disney decided to sell remote control droids, from the Star Wars movies, but rather than just sell boxes in a store, they created an experience. A cast member helps you choose parts for your droid, assemble it and operate it. You have fun playing with it on the showroom floor. What’s even more amazing is that, not only does a droid cost $100 plus tax, but you have to make a reservation to have the privilege of buying it. They’re selling something so enjoyable that customers forget they’re there to buy.

The lesson? Think far beyond the normal boundaries in your industry, to realize how much further you can — and should — go to create memorable experiences.

Principle 2: Premium Pricing

Many people wrongly believe that price is the most important factor in making a buying decision. A lot of salespeople have trepidation because they think that customers are concerned about price. There’s a danger in dwelling too much on price when it is not the most important factor for most people.

Disney is proud of owning the highest priced theme parks, because they know that this enables them to provide a better product. This is really the biggest advantage of charging more.

So, sell with confidence and enthusiasm that you’re delivering an enormous value. Don’t be shy that you charge more because it enables you to deliver a better product. Be proud of being a premium provider at the top of your industry.

Principle 3: Mind Your Language

The third principle is all about the words that we use with customers. Walt invented the Disney language that he trained all of his staff to use. He wanted them to remember that they are putting on a show. Employees are called cast members, customers are called guests, a group of guests is the audience, the experience is the show, and uniforms are costumes. Rather than just being clever, Walt found that this terminology made a difference. When staff thought of customers as guests rather just a transaction, they became happier and more welcoming.

We’re not going to use the exact same terminology as Disney, but how can we follow this principle?


What most say:                                      What you should say:

“Price”                                                           “Investment”

“Problem”                                                      “Challenge”

“No problem”                                                “You’re welcome/My pleasure”

“Sign up”                                                        “Register/Join”

“Contract”                                                      “Paperwork”

“I don’t know”                                               “Let me find out for you”

The words that we choose and use in our business really do make a difference.

Principle 4: The Power of a Name

Walt encouraged cast members to use guest names as much as possible. One of the ways Disney facilitates this is by giving out badges when you first get to the park. They have pins for birthdays, first-time visitors, honeymooners, anniversaries, family reunions, etc. And they write the person’s name on the badge itself. So later that day, a cast member might come up to a child and ask them by name how their birthday is going. The child may ask how they know their name and that it’s their birthday, and the cast member will say, “Disney magic.”

Disney realized that it’s very powerful when we learn and use clients’ names as much as possible. Even if we’re not good with names, we need to make the effort, as it’s so important.

Principle 5: Pay Close Attention to Details

When we are busy, it’s so easy to overlook the details. But our clients and guests do notice. I went into a chiropractor’s office and the first thing I noticed was there were a lot of marks on the walls. When I went up to the counter, I saw a computer monitor with a thick pile of dust that hadn’t been cleaned in years, and tangled cables spilling onto the floor.

I noticed all of these things as a first-time visitor, but if we aren’t walking in our customers’ shoes, we cease to register those details. But attention to detail matters, because guests do notice. Which is why to this day, on Main Street in Disney World, they repaint the lampposts every single night. Because they’re the first things people see when they come into the park. So, to stand out from the crowd, you need to pay attention to the smallest details.


Beyond Walt’s creative genius, he was a master marketer and understood the psychology of how to interact with people. I hope you’ve been inspired, and see how Walt’s principles can be applied in all aspects of your business.

This week, we were excited to celebrate Varsity’s 150th Sales & Marketing Roundtable with a fascinating presentation by acclaimed Disney expert and author Andrew Lock: 5 Disney-Inspired Ways to Improve Your Business.

We started these virtual conversations in March 2020 when our clients asked how other communities were dealing with the unprecedented events of the coronavirus. To help marketing leaders across the country come together and share their knowledge, we coordinated a roundtable discussion via Google Meet. We never thought we’d still be doing these weekly gatherings as masks came off and mandates were lifted, but we’ve now hosted 150 roundtables, and we’re still going strong.

Our focus changed over the course of the pandemic, as our participants’ needs changed.  Here are 10 of our most popular topics over the past three years:

  1. Resident isolation
  2. Shifting to virtual selling
  3. Dealing with loss (residents, team members, family)
  4. Vaccine rollout
  5. Compliance with vaccine requirements
  6. Workforce challenges/retention
  7. Event ideas
  8. Dealing with crises beyond the pandemic such as fires, hurricanes, ice storms and active shooters
  9. New technologies such as AI
  10. Best practices in creative messaging, online search and social media engagement

More important than any one topic is the camaraderie and community that’s grown among sales and marketing leaders across the country as they’ve shared their challenges, tips and ideas. Since the beginning, we’ve had 26 states represented, from Washington to Florida and California to Massachusetts.

Here are a few comments from our participants on what they’ve found most beneficial about the roundtables:

“Collaboration with peers is ALWAYS beneficial! You can never stop learning new ideas and thoughts.”

“Sharing best practices, learning from presenters, getting to know other communities around the country, the Varsity team’s commitment to making them happen every week through COVID-19.”

“The info shared by the speakers has been relevant and thought-provoking.”

And here are some of the topics participants would like to see next:

“How to market legacy apartments next to shiny, new ones.”

“Some medical insight into the deadly fungal illness turning up in healthcare facilities.”

We hope you’ll join us as we explore these topics and others every Thursday at 12 p.m. ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT

Email DDunham@varsitybranding.com for login information.


Guest post by Van Cluck, President of L4 Lifestyles

Recently, Van Cluck, a leader in senior living for the past three decades, was a guest speaker at the Varsity Sales & Marketing Roundtable. Here are some words of advice he shared.

I have spent the last 30 years, really my entire professional career, in the senior living space. It’s been a true honor to work in this industry. Here is my perspective on what I’ve learned and observed in my 30 years.

  1. It’s up to us to train the next generation.

When I started my very first role in senior living, I was a 24-year-old newly degreed accountant. I didn’t know much of anything, to be honest, when I went to work at the oldest and very first standalone independent living community in Nashville. Thankfully, a mentor came into my life very early on. He was executive director of that community, and he took me under his wing and taught me so much. I still think back on those lessons learned and their value.

That sense of family and mentorship is a real opportunity to impact the spaces we’re in. From that, I’ve tried to develop those mentor relationships, not just with my team, but with the industry as a whole. That has given me opportunities like being the chair of LeadingAge Tennessee. I just think it’s important to develop those who will come behind us. We don’t work in a space that is being trained well or frequently by academic institutions. So it’s really up to us to train the next generation.

  1. Senior living is much more than housing.

One of the things I’ve learned in my career is that senior living is so much more than housing — or it better be, if we’re going to be successful. Layering the dimensions of who we are and what we do is such a huge part of the sales process. When it’s just about housing, we’ll only end up losing to the next community who is surpassing us, and we need to be more than that.

  1. Have a healthcare and hospitality focus.

In my next role, I transitioned to a CCRC in Nashville where I spent 16 years as a CFO and then CEO, originally called Blakeford at Green Hills. There, we not only continued to develop and expand that community, but also grow some ancillary businesses. We launched Blakeford At Home, and our life care without walls product called LiveWell by Blakeford. Both are very successful today, and both also spoke to the dimensions of what we must do outside of just housing, by also being hospitality and healthcare. We want people to desire to be there, and we can create those dynamics where we are the community where people want to be when they need care services.

  1. Help your residents age with purpose.

After my time at Blakeford at Green Hills, I had the opportunity to come home to Lebanon and work with a family group that owns senior living communities. The name of our company is L4 Lifestyles. I came up with the name and I’m very proud of it. As I reflected on the many residents and families I’ve served, I asked myself, “Who are those residents, from a purely anecdotal standpoint, who have aged the best?” And the commonality I’ve found is those who continued to live with purpose at every stage of their life. That was the question I developed to ask ourselves: “What are you living for, and what is your purpose?” So “What are you living for” — “living for” — became “L4.” That became the company brand, to really help us all to focus on the concept of purposefully aging. How are we touching all of our residents? Not just as a nice place to live, not just having great activities, but how are we impacting them purposefully? They are looking at us to be more than just a place to live, but a place to age well.

  1. Encourage each other.

Let me emphasize how much value groups like this bring to us, because just today, hearing you talk, I wrote down three different things to bring back to our communities. We can’t minimize the importance of continuing to encourage each other, because in doing so, we will only serve our residents better.

  1. Learn to overcome challenges and make your residents part of the solution.

Recently at Cornerstone Place, our new master-planning project in Lebanon, someone on my team asked if I had considered the Spring Creek bladderpod in our planning. He said, “You better learn about it, because a lot of the 90 acres of land we’re developing is located there.” It’s a lovely little flower only found in very few areas of the country, and it’s protected by environmental guidelines. As we’re developing this property, we had to ask ourselves, “How will we protect this flower?” So our new logo features the Spring Creek bladderpod, and part of our residents’ role will be the protection of and care for the flower, which appears in various bodies of water on campus. I think the real lesson is that, whatever our challenges are, it is often our residents, who are right there in front of us, who are part of the solution.

In case you couldn’t make it to our December Sales & Marketing Roundtables, here are some of the trends we saw in senior living last month, and a look forward to 2023.

  1. Holiday Conversations. New Year’s Conversions.

Many participants saw sales activity gaining momentum in December. At this time of year, children come home for the holidays and notice that Mom and Dad aren’t getting around as well as they used to, and might benefit from senior living options. Sales and marketing leaders saw leads pick up, which will hopefully become conversions in January now that the busy holiday season is over.

  1. Connecting With Kinless Seniors

A frequent topic of conversation in December was “kinless” seniors, or seniors who do not have family support, whether it be because they never married, never had kids, are widowed, or for whatever reason don’t have a support network nearby. Kinless seniors can be uniquely limited in their caregiving support, and senior living communities can be well equipped to serve them.

“There are quite a few kinless folks who visit us. And I see them as very proactive, coming in and talking to us about their future plans, making sure they have their legal documents in order.” (Washington state)

  1. Nearly Universal Rate Increases — and Tips for Communicating Them

Entry fees and monthly service fees are being raised for 2023 in most senior living communities.

“The industry standard is a 9% to 10% increase, on average this year. (Pennsylvania)

Sales and marketing leaders shared helpful tips on how to best communicate rate increases with residents. It was agreed that it’s best to be extremely transparent with why fees have to go up, and to go into detail about why.

“We were extremely clear about why we raised rates and broke down the pricing for our residents. We were clear on what we spent on renovation and really broke it down. We also showed figures of how the minimum wage is going up, how utilities have increased, how the food bills have gone up.” (Massachusetts)

When using this up-front approach, residents tend to have less pushback and are more accepting of the current situation.

  1. Loneliness as a Public Health Problem

Americans are spending more and more hours alone than ever before. Our time spent alone has increased by over nine hours a week. This trend started well before the pandemic, although 2020 surely exacerbated it, and we know that time spent alone dramatically increases as we age. We discussed that it could be valuable for sales teams to convey that time spent alone can be dramatically reduced for people who live in senior communities.

  1. Competition Changing to At-Home Options

Sales and marketing leaders agree that their competition isn’t necessarily the other community down the road — especially for independent living. More often, they’re competing against home health agencies and private duty care.

“I have always said that I feel like other communities aren’t our competitors. We’re all competing against the home and the prospect staying at home.” (Washington state)

“It’s when the home is no longer working for them that people start calling us.” (Massachusetts)

See what’s new in senior living for 2023 at our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtables. Join us on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.


In case you couldn’t make it to our November Sales & Marketing Roundtables, here are some key takeaways from the month.

Rates Jump for 2023
Rate increases are expected to take a high leap in the upcoming year due to inflation and rising living expenses. Entrance and/or monthly fees are being raised across the board.

“Our rates are going up 7.5 to 8%, which is the biggest increase we’ve ever had that I can remember. Usually, it’s only 2 to 3%. I also heard the average rate increase in the country is 9%.” (Washington state)

“Yes, we’re raising our entrance fee as well, by roughly 10 to 15%.” (Arkansas)


The Party is Over in Real Estate

Elias Papasavvas, CEO of Second Act Financial Services 

CElias spoke about the changing housing market and how it will likely impact the senior living industry. Seniors now have rising mortgage rates, lots of newer construction, and other factors that are putting the pressure on home sales and adding time to the selling process. This means it won’t be as easy anymore for seniors to sell their houses, and not as quickly as they did earlier in 2022 during the housing boom. Second Act is a senior-focused division of a Federal Savings Bank that offers a senior-focused Home Equity Line of Credit and bridge loan solutions. They work with senior living sales professionals to help with the home sale process for seniors looking to move into an LPC/CCRC.

“Studies show that if you embed the conversation with how to pay for senior living in the beginning of the journey, and communicate that you have the solutions if somebody can’t sell their home in time or doesn’t want to at their move-in time, it can increase sales by 6%,” says Elias.

Rethinking Resident Engagement

Shawn Richard, Vice President Strategic Accounts, Cubigo
Shawn spoke about rethinking resident engagement and the importance of resident experience overall. Senior living sales and marketing programs are shifting more toward selling a lifestyle, and how to tailor the resident experience to meet the needs of the baby boomers as they filter into the senior living space. Communities need to have programs and activities that are personalized to residents, as well as having the methods to track resident engagement and satisfaction. Cubigo is an app that residents can download on their device, where they can track events in their calendar, RSVP to activities, manage their transportation and dining, and more.

“A focus on resident experience is becoming more prevalent, and people are talking more and more about it overall,” says Shawn. “Programs are shifting to meet the needs of the new wave of seniors coming in. So we need a holistic and a personalized view on what they’re looking for, versus the broad brush we used to apply to it.”

“When looking at resident experience as a whole, it’s not just experience itself, but how you can tailor it to the individual,” Shawn says, “When you think about experience and selling lifestyle, there’s a company who does a phenomenal job of it, and that’s Margaritaville. They take their experience in resort living to apply to senior living, and these are properties pre-selling that are full before they even open.”

Selling Through the Holidays
After the slowdown of the summer and the mad rush of September/October, November is calming down but is still steady. Life Plan Community sales and marketing leaders are staying busy with planning for the upcoming new fiscal year, and preparing for the busy holiday season of events. Many are hosting open houses to invite people into their community during the holidays.

“We’re having a holiday dinner for residents, and that is always the event of the year. Anyone who is a depositor — whether they’re a resident, or not moving in for months — can come as a networking opportunity.” (Wisconsin)

“We’ve had snow the past few days, but we got in a turkey trot event before the snow came. We had residents from all levels of care doing laps on the grounds, dressed up as turkeys and other things.” (Illinois)

Many communities hosted successful Veterans Day events and invited military guest speakers, or even their own residents, to share about their military experience.

“We’re having a guest speaker from the local Air Force base coming out. We’ll recognize our veterans, of course, and we’ll do different military hymns. And the local ROTC will come out and do a presentation. We do offer a veterans’ benefit with a discount on their entrance fee.” (Arkansas)

Takeaways From SMASH
Several roundtable participants picked up new tools at the Senior Care Marketing & Sales Summit  (SMASH)

“Everything is all about local SEO, especially for standalone communities. Being local is so important, so [we’re] trying to have more of a focus that way.” (Wisconsin)

“Content is king. So much about the customer journey is having the right content, on the right platform, at the right time. Keywords aren’t the thing anymore, but key intent is, the intent of the person viewing your content.” (Washington state)

Join the conversation at our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtables on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.


Guest Post by Tasha Saca, Associate Executive Director, Florida Presbyterian Homes

Recently, Hurricane Ian, the fifth deadliest storm to ever hit the country, made landfall in southwest Florida. Our community, Florida Presbyterian Homes, is located in central Florida, which means we were very fortunate overall in comparison to other areas that were directly hit. Because our campus is equipped with generators, most of the community kept power. The only residences that lost electricity were 115 residential living homes, which had no power for three days due to outages in the area.

In addition to power issues, the other consequence we suffered was debris from falling trees littering our campus. Our landscaping team did a cleanup and an arborist came out to complete the job of cutting down trees.

Having been through this emergency recently, I’d like to offer a few tips for other communities that may experience a disaster like this in the future.

Eight Tips to Keep Your Community Safe

1. You can never be too prepared

  • Organize, plan, and stay calm and logical.
  • Always have food and water on hand in amounts up to or exceeding American Health Care Association  standards.
  • Hold meetings with your residents so they know what items to have on hand in case of emergency.
  • Send out a survey to residents, asking if they have special needs like electricity for an oxygen machine or refrigeration for medicines.
  • Keep your emergency plan up-to-date.
  • Know who is on your emergency team, and designate one person to be the communications point for other communities, counties and hospitals seeking disaster relief.
  • Mobilize a phone tree so residents can check in with one another

2. Communicate

Communication with residents, staff and families is key to a successful response.

Before the crisis, we invited residents of our independent living neighborhood to come and stay in assisted living, where our generators assured power. While the power was on, we made calls every two hours to check in on people. While the power was off, we made door-to-door visits in pairs of two, one of the people being a nurse who could check on residents’ medical status.

We used Constant Contact to blast out messages to family members, residents and staff via phone, email and text. We posted Polk County Emergency Service updates on our Facebook page. We also called our waitlist members to offer meals and temporary shelter, and do a general wellness check — they really appreciated those efforts.

3. Get the physical plant ready

Before the storm, maintenance prepared our campus by picking up and moving potted plants and outdoor furniture, trimming tree branches, and clearing mulch out of drains.

4. Prioritize needs

First, we made sure we could take in all our independent living residents as well as our emergency team. Then we offered the openings we had left to those from other areas, hospitals and senior communities.

5. Mobilize your emergency team

Make sure you know who is on your team, what area of the community they will serve, and what their duties will be. We had three teams: two teams in staggered shifts and a fresh relief team that came in afterwards. One of the biggest factors for a successful response is making sure everyone knows what their responsibilities are

6. Make sure your emergency team has what they need

Maintenance obtained mattresses and cots for team members and their families and pets. We had food and supplies for them, as well as plastic kiddie pools filled with slices of sod and grass for the pets — so we didn’t have to take them outside in the storm.

7. Keep the special needs of older people in mind

I recommend cots that are up off the ground to shelter older people. Other needs: safe temperatures in rooms, hospital beds in some instances, mobility assistance, electricity for oxygen and CPAP machines, and refrigeration for medicines

8. Learn from your experience and make changes to your plan

Some of the things our community learned during Hurricane Ian:

  • During our visits to residents, we passed out grab-and-go bags with sandwiches and cookies, but we would have liked to have bags of ice to give out as well.
  • Next time, we will make toiletry kits for residents staying in the main building — so they don’t have to worry about bringing shampoo and other necessities.
  • We will implement Hurricane Kickoff Week to educate and prepare residents and mobilize neighborhood champions.
  • One resident suggested we set up a community kitchen area, so residents can bring food from their refrigerator and have staff cook it for them.
  • We would have liked to have a person just to sit and answer the phone — our emergency team will now have a designated person in that role.

I hope you’ve found this advice helpful. And I want to stress the positive aspects of sheltering from the hurricane together. Residents were overjoyed and grateful that all the staff pitched in to help. Staff from different departments worked side by side. It was an incredible bonding experience for everyone.

October 22 is National Make a Difference Day! To honor this day of service, we asked our staffers,
“What is one thing you are doing to make a difference?”

Here are some of their answers:

“I’m building a sanctuary for nature and its creatures.”
“l live on a farm, where I compost just about everything possible, plant bee and butterfly favorites like milkweed, bee balm and butterfly bushes, and tend a flock of chickens that give me great nutrients for my gardens. I also maintain a small pond that attracts frogs, insects and butterflies, and build and install birdhouses around my property.”
Jace Dawson, Project Manager 

“I join 100 women in making a bigger difference together than we could alone.”
I belong to 100 Women Who Care, and each of us donates $100 per quarter and awards the aggregate $10,000 to a nonprofit in need. We nominate the nonprofits to be considered, they each present to us, and then we vote for who should receive the funding.”
Jackie Stone, Sales Consultant

“I serve as an election judge in my own precinct.”
After the murder of George Floyd, I wanted to do something that would make my community fairer and more equitable. I looked around for ways to do that and determined one of the best ways was to get involved in the election process. I wanted to be a poll watcher to ensure everybody was able to safely and confidently vote. However, I was told the greatest need was to be an election judge in my own precinct. I’ve served in that capacity since 2020.
— Derek Dunham, VP Client Services

“I support organizations that support the community.”
“I donate to local organizations and am mindful of the environment, because we all live downstream.”
— John Bassounas, Partner

“I’m going a year without purchasing new clothing.”
At the end of 2021 I did my routine closet clean-out, and by the end of the day I was donating more bags of clothing than I care to share the final number of. Seeing that much clothing was humbling and disturbing. I probably was only wearing about 20% of my clothes. I took on the challenge to see if I could go an entire year without purchasing any clothing, and I’m well on my way there.  Remake has been a great resource, and is packed with information about huge flaws in the fashion industry, from labor issues to the huge amount of clothing that ends up in landfills.”
— Renee Kelly, Art Director

“I volunteer my time to a nonprofit theatre company and a community college’s graphic design program.”
“For over 35 years, I’ve supported the local arts community by volunteering my time to a nonprofit theatre company — producing posters for The Harrisburg Shakespeare Company’s main stage events. I’ve also dedicated time to the local community college’s graphic design program, as a member of their advisory board, a guest lecturer and mentor to students, assisting them in preparing their portfolios and honing interview skills prior to graduation.”
— Robinson Smith, Creative Director

“I focus on reducing plastic use and recycling, buying locally and composting everything I can.”
“I compost everything (including buying compostable diapers), have planted bee- and butterfly-friendly flowers, use biodegradable cleaners, recycle all that I can, and use Terracycle for items that aren’t traditionally recyclable. I also buy local eggs, meat and produce at the farmers’ market one mile from my house that I walk to.”
— Natalie Groeger, Senior Account Strategist

That’s what we’re doing to make a difference! Here’s to helping each other, our communities and the planet!

As we say goodbye to summer vacations and reset for fall, our roundtable participants give valuable answers that can help make fourth quarter your busiest yet.

1. Why shouldn’t you let the “summer sales slump” get you down?

“‘Summer’ kind of sums it up, right? We all know what it means. You have that ‘valley’ going on, and coming into Q4, there will be an uptick.” (Ohio/Massachusetts)

“Historically, the summer is slower and the fall tends to pick up, and then we have lots of signings in November and December, closing those sales.” (Ohio/Massachusetts)

 2. How do you change a warm lead into a hot lead?

“We’re really starting to participate in community events around our neighborhood, and invite leads to them. Like this week, we’re having a resident art show and inviting warm or ‘on the fence’ leads. That’s really important to get them into the community.” (Washington state)

“We use marketing automation. That will give leads a lead score in Enquire. We ask the team to sort the list by highest lead score, since they are obviously the ones ripe for the picking. You can start to move them up the pipeline.” (New Jersey)

“I would suggest for an event, if you have something special you do for residents, to invite your leads to it.” (Missouri)

3. How do you differentiate yourself in your market?

“We have one community that is going to meet with the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. They have set up apartments and residences, specifically for the visually impaired.” (New Jersey)

“We have a dog park, and that pulls in a lot of people!” (Missouri)

“We emphasize our faith-based, nonprofit background and what that means.” (New Jersey)

“”We have been in the same location and under the same ownership for 36 years. Many people who come see us say that’s why they want to move here. Also, many of our staff have that longevity. We have a housekeeper who has been here since we opened 36 years ago. That gives us the edge in our market.” (Arkansas)

“We have had a wonderful history of 77 years now, and it’s wonderful to draw on that history. But we’re also trying to break away, too, and renew ourselves. We’ve come up with a new mission and values statement, with a new campaign coming up in September.” (Washington state)

“We’re very multi-generational. We have three campuses across Kentucky, and we do the whole gamut from preschool, to independent living, to memory and personal care.” (Kentucky)

“I think you have to look at where your uniqueness is, and what is your niche in your community. We have 20 acres of beautiful grounds, right next to the second largest park in the nation, second only to Central Park, at 750 acres.” (Washington state)

“We are the only CCRC in Sussex County, New Jersey. And our full continuum, with hospice and memory care, is all under one roof, and that’s a competitive edge for us.” (New Jersey)

“Our edge is that we’re in a master plan community. We sit on a plateau, and we’re surrounded by 30 miles of biking and walking trails.” (Washington state)

“We changed our name about 20 years ago to include ‘the lake,’ so that people know we’re a waterfront community.” (Wisconsin)

4. How do you target the younger adult?

“We start our marketing at age 60 for our waiting list, but I’d love for it to be even younger. We include active imagery and mention lots of amenities in our marketing, to invite our waitlist to join in and feel at home here sooner.” (Wisconsin)

“We use our walking score in our marketing, because ours is very high for a senior living community. We use walkscore.” (Wisconsin)

5. How is your marketing/advertising spending and strategy evolving?

“There’s been a shift in the senior living space. People used to choose communities for their faith affiliation, but we have started to change to be more hobby-based. It’s less about faith nowadays and more about personal interests. For example, my parents have bred and shown dogs for 30 years. That’s their ‘thing.’ It would be a good question to pose: Who is the most pet-friendly senior living community in the world?” (Seth Anthony, LW Consulting)

“We’ve been looking at our lists, and we typically pull names of prospects between 60 and 75, with a home price of $400,000 and up. And we would typically come up with 10,000 to 12,000 names. But with how much home prices have gone up, we had to increase that range of home prices to $700,000, with the same age group, to get a comparable range of names.” (Washington State)

“Since the pandemic, the majority of our budget is in digital advertising.” (Washington State)

“We definitely have evolved in our conversations. We ramped up our in-person events.. People in our area want to get out and go back to normalcy. Our events trend well, with close to 100 attendees at each event.” (Pennsylvania)

Please join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtables on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.


The Varsity team attended the 2022 LeadingAge PA Annual Conference June 22–24 in Hershey, PA. In case you weren’t able to be there, here are some of the top issues we heard about at sessions and in conversations around the conference.

1.Workforce issues

As with all other industries, the aging services field is having challenges finding good people and also retaining current staffing. Several communities noted that they have experienced situations where people have been scheduled for interviews and simply didn’t show up. Communities are looking to do outreach with students and interns, as well as expand marketing and advertising initiatives aimed at employment.

2. Transforming spaces/amenities to keep up with community expansions

Overall space planning is important. While focusing on a new expansion and new spaces, it’s an opportunity to reimagine existing spaces for new uses and to present a fresh look across the campus. For example, one community mentioned that they are opening a new building, including a new auditorium and wellness center, and they are now building out the existing fitness center and auditorium as a new dining venue and pub, as well as other common use spaces.

3. Opportunities for growth through acquisitions, affiliations and mergers

All organizations are trying to stay profitable as they navigate the current landscape. Acquisitions, affiliations and mergers may present opportunities for communities to grow and be well positioned for the future, in the face of new for-profit rental communities.

4. Compliance and IT

The technology at a senior living community, just like at any organization, is vulnerable to malware attacks. We heard about the importance of protecting the system through cybersecurity. Everything from a smart light bulb to an adult child connecting to Wi-Fi can be a gap in the armor, and can create complications for IT from a security perspective. 

5. Midyear rate increases

Annual rate increases are standard for communities, but given the current environment of inflation and need for PPE (along with other, unexpected expenses), communities are considering — and some are implementing — midyear rate increases.

6. Innovations in technology

Demonstrated technology included robot-like Roombas that serve food, in-room Wi-Fi service providers that residents can log on to, and listings of the community’s activities that families can access through their TV screens. These innovations for the future can revitalize senior living, but there are challenges in implementing them for less tech-savvy residents and communities.

7. Digital marketing techniques for generating new leads

Lifestyle assessments, surveys and quizzes can effectively reach leads who are not yet ready to communicate directly with a sales counselor. Questions can be tailored to the navigation bar of the community’s site, the blog content they accompany, etc. — and, of course, can capture user information for future engagement. Examples of survey topics include: “Is it the right time for senior living?” “Is this dementia?” “Is it still safe for you to drive?”


This guest post was contributed by Seth Anthony, Chief Revenue Consultant at LW Consulting, Inc., a recognized leader in providing compliance and risk management solutions across the full continuum of healthcare delivery.

Healthcare labor costs are up. You know that. We know that. Finding front-line workers, especially credentialed caregivers, has never been more challenging. To fill those gaps, many healthcare providers, including senior living organizations, have had to turn to staffing agencies to fill their gaps.

The issue has gotten so bad that nearly 200 members of the United States House of Representatives sent a letter to the Biden administration urging them to investigate price gouging by staffing agencies. The American Hospital Association (AHA) and the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) quickly followed suit. In an effort to not alienate nurses, they chose their language carefully, going so far as to say, “Please be sure that our concerns focus directly on the agencies and not the personnel they represent.”

Those personnel, often referred to as “travel nurses,” are sometimes looked down upon by their peers for being mercenary actors in a world that desires more personalized care. The frustration felt by these nurses is palpable, as can be seen in Reddit. The post, titled “Why would Congress want to cap travel nurse salaries, and not cap hospital CEO salaries?”, is an enlightening read.

User @forgotmynameagain22 asks, “What do the CEOs even do? Ours makes $4+ million/year not including bonuses. If he disappears tomorrow would anyone notice?” Another user points to an Economic Policy Institute article from 2019, which reports that CEO compensation has grown by 940% since 1978, while typical worker compensation has only risen 12% during that same period.

Obviously, demonizing nurses for demanding high pay during a staffing shortage is not a route that will solve the challenges facing the aging services space, but there’s another storm brewing that senior living leaders need to be aware of. As retrospective studies of the pandemic begin, executive compensation in healthcare is already coming under scrutiny by regulators and Congress, for a variety of reasons.

As reported by McKnight’s Senior Living, LW Consulting, Inc. (LWCI) released its first report on the compensation paid to senior living leaders, with a focus on CEOs, CFOs and COOs. Utilizing publicly available data from the IRS Form 990, Schedule J, LWCI found that the average not-for-profit senior living CEO at the country’s 200 largest providers earns a compensation package worth more than $500,000 per year. That number outpaces similarly situated CFOs by 40% and COOs by 38%.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average registered nurse earned $75,303 per year in 2020, or about 15% of the salary earned by the average aging services CEO. We should point out this is not a criticism of the salaries earned by CEOs. Senior living executives have some of the toughest jobs out there, especially when coupled with not-for-profit missions that drive their services. Rather, this is the kind of data that providers need to understand, and be able to respond with, to shore up their positions when the questions do start coming.

In the past, many boards of directors chose to do their own compensation studies and analyses when handling executive compensation. While this isn’t against the law, it does get into an ethically gray space, especially if board members have any ties to the organization as a vendor or compensated individual. This is an easy area in which to mitigate risk, though it does have an associated cost.

Boards should always look to hire an outside, completely independent firm to review their executive compensation plans. This should be done each time a key executive position turns over, along with a complete strategic executive compensation review every five years. The documentation created during this endeavor is a key piece of information that will protect a provider when questions regarding executive compensation come to light.

In an era when it seems all the forces of the world are mounting against healthcare providers, we know that the best defense is a good offense. Understanding the strategic value of your C-suite is critical to a long-term revenue plan that uplifts all team members, from the front line through the CEO. Employees, residents and donors appreciate knowing that the board is working hard to compensate the entire organization fairly. Transparency and independence are the most important factors in such a process and will bring trust to all parties involved. Remember, rising tides lift all boats!






Today we’re talking to Sadiya Abjani, Director of Learning & Equity at SAGE, the world’s largest and oldest organization focused on advocacy and services for LGBT elders. SAGECare, SAGE’s cultural competency training and credentialing program, provides training and consulting services to elder care providers.

According to Sadiya, a recent AARP study shows that over 60% of the LGBT community fears discrimination when accessing residential long-term care. This population would feel more comfortable if the company had been trained. However, many people have misconceptions about the training, as well as about the LGBT population at their communities. In this post, we’ll highlight nine truths to combat some of those misconceptions.

1. The training isn’t preachy or pedantic.
“People will come up to me after the training and say, ‘I thought you were here to push the gay agenda,’” says Sadiya. “There’s a misconception that the training will be preachy or pedantic, but it’s about the care.”

A quick overview of the training: There are separate, highly interactive trainings for management and line staff. (These trainings have been converted to virtual sessions during COVID-19, and received high marks by participants.) Each training focuses in on language, assumptions and historical context. It puts you in the shoes of an LGBT person. It’s all about creating inclusive communities — working with LGBT adults of color, veterans and elders, specifically, according to Sadiya.

2. You won’t be judged for your beliefs.
“Some folks in leadership may be hesitant to do the training,” says Sadiya. “The message we want to convey is that this isn’t about whether you accept LGBT people or not. The point of the training is that it is your mission to provide the best possible care to everyone who walks in your door. In order to help you do this, the training provides information, tools and skills that you need. We don’t want to judge individuals for their beliefs,” she continues. “We accept everybody as they are. We reach across that divide to focus on providing that best possible care.”

3. Your employees will be more accepting of the training than you may think.
Another misconception is that the staff won’t be on board. “This message that it (the training) is about the human being — that really resonates with everyone,” says Sadiya. “We’ve had success with organizations with an incredibly diverse staff.”

4. There’s no one type of organization that is most open to the training.
“There are organizations that we have worked with that have been more hesitant than others; the training stretches them. There’s an assumption that this hesitancy is found along religious lines, but that’s not true,” Sadiya says. “Some organizations see the merit of the training and champion it, regardless of religious affiliation or background.”

5. You have LGBT people at your community, even if you don’t know it.
“A huge misconception among organizations is: ‘We don’t have any LGBT people here,’” says Sadiya. Statistics prove that perception wrong. “The issue is that folks are not comfortable coming out as LGBT. Organizations can learn to ask questions without assumptions.”

6. Treating all care recipients the same is not a good thing.
“Often, people will assume that they are doing the right thing by making statements like, ‘We treat everyone the same.’ Although that sentiment is coming from a good place,” says Sadiya, “it isn’t our job to make sure that we’re treating everyone the same. It’s all about treating everyone with person-centered care. The goal is making sure that everyone gets to the same destination, which is the best possible care. In order to do that, we must understand an individual’s unique experiences and background.”

7. Language matters.
Language is covered extensively in the SAGECare trainings. Why is it so important? “For a community that’s already been discriminated against, and feels unsafe, using the wrong terms will cause them to shut down and the conversation ends there,” says Sadiya. A couple of examples of language that shouldn’t be used include:

• “LGBT lifestyle” (Using the term “lifestyle” implies it is something you have a choice about.) ”LGBT            identity” or “identity” are better words to replace “lifestyle.”
• “Sexual preference.” (This is another loaded term, implying that you prefer to be LGBT, but that you           could be something else if you want.) “Sexual orientation” is a better term.

“By using language that makes people feel safe, you’re setting yourself up to provide a better standard of care,” says Sadiya.

8. Organizations undergo many positive changes after training.
“After the training, there is a shift in the way that LGBT elders already at the community respond to care,” says Sadiya, calling it “a journey.” She’s noticed many positive changes, including people participating in PRIDE events, and organizations that celebrate diversity across the board. “When companies open the door with LGBT training, that inclusion then starts gravitating out. Their organization becomes a more inclusive place, both for staff and constituents,” Sadiya explains. “I’ve seen organizations that I’m deeply connected to grow and change over the years. It’s been magical watching this happen.”

9. Training benefits everyone at your organization.
Training can benefit all residents and team members at your organization, not just LGBT individuals, according to Sadiya. “These changes toward inclusivity affect the entire diverse population of your organization,” she says.

For more information about SAGECare, or if you’d like to schedule a training for your organization, email sabjani@sageusa.org.

Although coping with issues like employee retention and vaccine mandates, communities are reporting that leads and sales are somewhere between steady and swamped. Additionally, Lana Peck shared move-in and move-out numbers from the National Investment Center for Seniors (NIC) Executive Survey, and Zack Collevechio and Jodi Gibble shared valuable insights on data analytics and mystery shopping.

From Swamped …

Some community marketers  reported nonstop activity, sharing comments like: “The phone has been ringing off the hook and it’s very hard to keep up.” “We have a move-in almost every day next week, so we’re running as fast as we can.” “Business has been really strong and we’re really happy about that. Right now it’s like a fire hose and we don’t want to turn it off!”

… to Steady

Although not slammed, other communities were making consistent progress.

“Things are going steady and pretty good,” said one marketer. “I don’t want to jinx anything, but we are getting quite a few people interested in independent living. Personal care seems to have picked up somewhat.”

Staffing Issues

One issue standing in the way of move-ins for many communities is staffing challenges. Several marketers said they couldn’t accept new residents because they didn’t have the staff to care for them. We heard comments like: “The challenges that we’re facing are with dining services and actually getting and retaining staff. We’re so short-staffed and it’s not sustainable.” “We’re still having issues with staffing, so we have to turn people down because of our census issues.” “Regarding admissions, at the skilled level we have to turn people away because we don’t have the staff to care for them.”

Impact of COVID-19 Lingers

COVID-19 rates are back up in some communities. One marketer commented: “We had to scale back things in our dining room because our positivity rate is up, so we’re putting some restrictions in place. Another said, “Unfortunately, we had an outbreak in our SNF, so we are monitoring this closely.”

One community is seeing plenty of tours and leads, and its marketer shared, “I think that people have learned how to live with COVID-19 better than we’d thought because it doesn’t seem to scare people anymore to live in congregate living. I think people have started to just peacefully coexist with it and can’t put their lives on hold anymore.”

Vaccine Mandates

To combat COVID-19, some communities are requiring employees to get vaccinated. One marketer shared: “We’ve just released our vaccination mandate, which will begin on November 8. We haven’t heard any pushback, so not sure if that’s a calm before a storm or if it truly won’t be an issue.”  Another said: “We have a mandate of October 15,  and I think some people are waiting to see if we’re serious about that deadline.”

Lana Peck Shares NIC Executive Survey Insights

Lana Peck, Senior Principal from NIC, shared insights from the latest wave of NIC’s Executive Survey. Details on Wave 32 can be found on NIC’s blog by clicking here. Note that the NIC Fall Conference starts November 1 in Houston. More information can be found at this link.

Lana shared: “Towards the end on Wave 32 (the end of September and encompassing the month of August), organizations that said their move-ins were accelerating had gone down quite a bit. As the infection rates have spiked in regions around the country, we’ve seen it reflected in this move-in data as well. Accelerations decreased over the past 30 days. This may be related to the Delta variant, but it also may reflect that some of the pent-up demand is working through the system. Note this doesn’t mean the occupancy is declining, but that the rate of move-ins is slowing. As we look at the move-out data, the grey bar shows that there has been a slowing of move-outs, which is obviously a good thing to stabilize occupancy.”

Mystery Shopping Insights With Jodi Gibble

After mystery shops at 55 senior living communities, Jodi Gibble, sales consultant at Varsity, shared best practices:

  • Answer the phone and collect information
  • Conduct pre- and post-tour sessions
  • Provide enough information on the website to entice the prospect to tour
  • Ensure the website is up-to-date (calendar of events, etc.)
  • Be generally interested in the prospect and/or their loved one
  • Ensure that the community is tour-ready
  • Follow up with all emails and tours (Jodi only received calls or emails from half of the communities she called/toured)

For more information, contact Jodi at jgibble@varsitybranding.com.

WildFig Data Discussion

Zack Collevechio from WildFig Data, an organization working in the data analytics space, shared key points for senior communities to keep in mind:

  • Create a data plan — Planning and organizing your data before you want to analyze it is an unglamorous, but vital step.
  • Examine — Look at relationships and trends within your data to estimate ROI when perfect tagging/tracking does not exist.
  • Experiment — Test different levels of spending and observe the effect it has on results.
  • Go deeper — It’s good to know how many calls or chats you receive in a day. It’s even better to know what people are calling or chatting about.
  • Prioritize — Implement a system that directs your sales staff to the best prospects.

If you want to discuss any of this with Zack directly, you can send him an email at zcollevechio@wildfigdata.com.

Look for our next monthly roundtable recap in your inbox. Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

Q&A with CC Young Resident Advocate Dess Rolfe

Can you give an overview of what a resident advocate does?

The role of the resident advocate at CC Young is to represent the residents and their families in expressing unresolved issues and concerns, taking them to management, and bringing those concerns to a timely solution. I listen, observe, interact, communicate and resolve.

How do you get in touch with residents?

I attend meetings and functions where they are present. Because I conduct surveys on the services we offer, I am in touch with many of them daily. Also, for the convenience of residents and families, we make information about me and the advocate position readily available on our website, in the resident handbook, and other CC Young publications on campus. I also hand out a lot of business cards, and my cell number is on the card.

My goal is for our residents to view me as a friend. If they have an issue that cannot wait until business hours, I want them to feel free to call me anytime.

How was the resident advocate position created?

Shortly after Russell Crews became CC Young’s President and CEO, he talked to me about a role he had in mind for me. We had worked together at another company, and he knew my background and work history. We talked about what he envisioned and what this title might be for this particular role. At that time, he said my main responsibility would be “to make the residents happy.” We began there and went forward. Over the past eight years, my responsibilities have evolved around this original concept.

Why is it so important to have a resident advocate?

The residents respond in a positive way to having their own advocate on campus — someone they know and trust who will always have time for them. In being available and listening to the residents and sometimes families, issues can be broken down and resolved before they grow in dimension.

What do you hear from residents?

The residents tell me they are happy that I am here to help them. They know they can call me, and together, we can get to the bottom of any concern and solve it quickly. They also tell other people. Many times, when I meet a visitor or new resident, they say, “I’ve heard of you. You helped my relative when they were here at CC Young.”

What is a typical day?

There are no typical days. While there are scheduled meetings, events and activities, the balance of my time is spent in relationship-building and problem-solving.

What advice would you give communities?

To have an advocate who is immediately available when an issue arises and one who proactively reaches out to residents and families very quickly. It’s important in this role to be a good listener, have empathy for the situation, look into the matter, and follow up with an answer.

What is your background?

I’ve been at CC Young for 12 years, and in this role for eight. I believe many of my previous positions have prepared me for the resident advocate position. My first summer job in high school was at a small hospital of 25 beds. Later, I became a certified medical secretary, and was a family service counselor at a local funeral home. I’ve also worked for several physicians and psychiatrists. A few years ago, I became a Texas certified mediator.

Most recently, I was asked by CC Young to teach the customer service/hospitality module in orientation to all new employees.

What is CC Young’s point of view on customer service?

Our vision is to enhance the quality of life for all we serve. We put the residents first. It is very important to build relationships through our respectful and caring approach.

What’s the most rewarding thing about your job?

Seeing that the residents and families are happy, with as little stress as possible, and that their issues are resolved quickly — to serve in such a manner that their lives are enriched because I was there to help.



For the most part, sales are on the upswing again this month.  Our Sales & Marketing Roundtable participants across the country are staying busy with inquiries, events and move-ins, particularly in independent living. We’ve also discussed some great opportunities, like receiving funds through the American Rescue Plan and a new tool communities can use to drive occupancy through culture. Some not-so-high points: a lack of leads in personal care and assisted living, discomfort with asking people if they’ve been vaccinated, and unease about the Delta variant.

Here are some hits and misses in senior living for the month:

HIT: Occupancy continuing to trend upward for independent living.  One community marketer said, “Things are very positive. We’re getting more calls and move-ins.”  Another participant shared,  “We are back to pre-pandemic levels with 84% occupancy,” while a third echoed, “We’re busy across all of our communities with inquiries and tours.”

MISS: Sluggish assisted living/personal care sales. “We’re struggling a bit with personal care. We’re not getting as many referrals or leads,” said one participant.

HIT: Out-of-the-box tactics to fill assisted living/personal care. “Our personal care is still steady with referrals to our short-term rehab from hospitals. We’re also connecting with some of our home care providers that are inside of our building to encourage them to refer their clients to us,” said one participant. Another community is using respite care as an entry point.We’re focusing on using our respite care and short-term rehab as a way to introduce (people) to the community,” the participant shared. “That’s how we’re getting them in.”

MISS: Communities not being transparent about COVID rates. One resident even started a newsletter to get out the true facts. Read her story here.  

HIT: Creative sales tactics and events. “We’ve started a move-in special, which we’ve never done before,” said one participant. Another shared, “We have our first in-person event next week. The event is called ‘Cappuccinos and Crème,’ and we’re limiting the event size to only 20 attendees plus staff.” A third marketer shared, “In August, we’re doing a ‘Blues and Blueberry’ event that will feature a blues guitarist.”

MISS: Dealing with people who won’t get vaccinated. “There’s been grumbling because some people in the community haven’t been vaccinated,” said one marketer. “We can’t mandate it, and it’s their choice.”

HIT: A new tool to  boost occupancy through culture. At one roundtable, Denise Boudreau-Scott, President of Drive, spoke about the link between culture and occupancy, stating, “There is a strong connection between the culture of your community and occupancy.” Denise shared a free personal values assessment tool to help you to begin to understand the culture of your community. You can then work with your leadership to improve it, since it is proven to impact occupancy. Click here for the assessment tool or reach out to Denise directly at denise@cultureoutcomes.com  to discuss your community’s culture.

MISS: Attention from OSHA. “Everyday and clinical operations are getting back to normal, which means OSHA and other surveys are coming back,” shared one participant. “A lot of communities are not used to this, and some are getting hit hard by missteps. The clinical folks are under the gun to get back to regular operations and making sure things are not overlooked.”

HIT: Qualified applicants. “Those that are coming in have already done their research on our website and are financially qualified,” shared one participant. “They’re ready to make a decision.”

MISS: The Delta variant. “We were opening up and loosening restrictions, but now everything is tightening up a bit,” one marketer said. “There is concern about the new variant.” 

HIT: Opportunities to receive funds through the American Rescue Plan. “It is a great way to get money to help support projects that may have been put off,” says participant Seth Anthony. “There are a ton of different ways this money could be utilized, it just needs to be framed correctly and requested from the right place. It’s not like applying for federal money. Local townships are allowed to spend the money however they like and there’s not a lot of paperwork involved.” If you’re interested in learning more, click here  or contact Seth Anthony directly at SAnthony@lw-consult.com.

All in all, this month has seen more hits than misses. Sales counselors are busy, internet inquiries are flooding in and communities are filling apartments. One participant even said, “We’re full, so we’re not actively pursuing assisted living. We’re putting people on a waitlist at the moment.”

Look for our next monthly roundtable recap in your inbox. Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET and 11 a.m. CT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.


Many people thought it would take senior living years and years to recover from the COVID-19 virus. But this May, Varsity’s Sales & Marketing Roundtable participants were feeling resounding optimism! Their positive experiences with leads and move-ins are echoed in communities across the country, as we found through a presentation by Lana Peck of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) in our last roundtable of the month, where she shared statistics about the  state of senior living.

Here are 10 takeaways from this month’s roundtable:

  1. Momentum is positive. Leads and move-ins are on the upswing. One participant in New Jersey said, “We have a small memory care wait list, which we haven’t seen since the pandemic started!” Another participant in Arkansas said, “Tours are way up. Leads are coming in strong.” From Pennsylvania, the news was, “IL is booming. Our small carriage home project is going well with 15 of 16 reserved.” And from Washington state: “We’re also super busy moving in people. There’s so much going on, our sales team can’t even keep up with it.”
  2. Staffing issues are still challenging. One participant said, “We are definitely having challenges. We used to struggle with nursing positions, but now it’s across all departments. We’ve been offering between $2,000 and $5,000 [as a] signing bonus. Another community shared a tip: “We held our Drive-In Career Fair yesterday and had 27 candidates show up.”
  3. The hot housing market helps. “The housing market is really hot and there are not enough houses, removing the challenge of selling your home,” said one participant from Illinois.
  4. People are “Zoomed out.” But that’s OK, since in-person events, especially outdoors, are back! “The turnout for in-person events has been strong and there’s a lot of interest,” said one participant.
  5. Mask updates are confusing. “Some of our campus is under one set of guidelines and some is under another set of guidelines,” said one attendee in Washington state. “It’s really confusing. We’re developing bullets to outline what our residents can and can’t do, depending on what buildings they are going in and out of.”
  6. Communities have to get used to holding in-person events again. “We had our first in-person event yesterday after a year and three months,” said one marketer. “It went OK — you forget things like putting pens and pads on tables — it’s been a long time! It was very well received. We just had some minor hiccups and need to remind ourselves of how to do in-person events again.”
  7. More team members are getting vaccinated. “Our staff is showing more interest in getting vaccinated and we’re at 66% right now. We think they are feeling more comfortable now that they’ve seen [that] others haven’t had negative reactions,” said one participant. Other communities are providing cash incentives and not requiring weekly tests if employees are vaccinated. One community even created videos of staff members explaining why it’s a good idea to get the vaccine. “It helped get us over 70%,” the participant said.
  8. There’s a lot of buzz around mandating the vaccine. There’s a desire to mandate the vaccine, and some communities have started to do this, but our prediction is that we’ll be hearing much more about this, especially the legal implications.
  9. It’s a struggle to re-engage residents. As discussed on a call with LeadingAge D.C., there’s a current struggle in getting Memory Care residents to re-engage because they’ve been in their rooms for 14 months.
  10. Move-ins are trending higher. Findings presented by Lana Peck of NIC back up participant experiences: Across all three levels of care, move-ins are up, move-outs are down, and traffic and leads are strong. Details below.

NIC Executive Survey Insights with Lana Peck

  • Lana Peck, Senior Principal from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC), attended the roundtable and shared insights from the latest wave of NIC’s Executive Survey.
    • A few high points:
      • Nursing care occupancy fell more than IL and AL — 12.5 points vs. 8.7 points. Senior housing declined 8.7 points over the course of the pandemic; that includes IL and AL. Nursing care fell the most, by 12.5 points. So, COVID-19 hit nursing properties especially hard.
      • Vaccinations have fallen off — right now, they are at 90% for residents and about 65% for employees.
      • A smaller share of properties have 90% or more occupancy — only 24% in the first quarter of 2021 versus 54% in the first quarter of 2020.
    • On the bright side:
      • An acceleration in the pace of move-ins is clearly trending, and the pace of move-outs is either staying the same or decelerating.
      • In March, we may have reached an inflection point in occupancy.
      • In IL, 56% of communities said they have seen an increase in occupancy.
      • Lead volume is increasing. Encouragingly, we’re seeing a growing number of organizations reaching lead volumes at pre-pandemic levels.
      • Rent discounts, free rent and rent freezes have been increasingly used as incentives to boost occupancy. Most of the C-suite operators and owners who were questioned believe that occupancy will reach pre-pandemic levels in a year or two.

See more details of Wave 28 of the NIC survey here.

We hope that move-ins, reopenings and vaccination rates continue to rise in June. Look for the next monthly recap of our roundtable discussions in your inbox.

Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET and 11 a.m. CT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.



The month of March marked the one-year anniversary of COVID shutting down workplaces and businesses, as well as the one-year anniversary of our Sales & Marketing Roundtable discussions.

During this month’s virtual discussions, the takeaways were different — depending on the part of the country — but we found some common themes.

One theme that frequently came up was the anxiety senior living marketers feel heading into the post-pandemic era. Communities are all moving from the uncertainty of not knowing what life is going to hold during the pandemic to not knowing how things are going to change as they get back to business in this new landscape. One quote from a participant summed up the feelings of many: “The uncertainty of the past year has played out in this field also. Some days it feels hopeful and some days it’s crazy.”

A roller coaster of emotions

Another marketer echoed the ups and downs of feelings (and leads), saying: “It’s surges and lulls. We get a lot of leads at once and then it slows down. I’m seeing peaks and valleys. People are coming out of their shells, and want to make decisions and move forward. They are being  cautious and thoughtful to make sure they have all the answers to their questions. There’s more hand-holding than before. The closing time is definitely longer and requires more personal time and visits. People want to feel good about their decision.”

The good news is that, now that many residents and team members have been vaccinated, communities are starting to open up parts of their campuses, particularly dining areas. “I’m excited about opening communal dining,” said one participant. “This will be full capacity, and we’ll be able to serve everyone at one seating.”

Another marketer echoed the positive feelings that come with reopening dining, commenting, “It’s so nice to walk by the dining room and see happy residents.”

Reopenings spark marketing opportunities

As dining, tours and activities open, so do marketing possibilities. One participant shared: “Our staff is going through the database to reach out to those who said they wanted to wait until IL dining and common areas were opened up.”

Planning has also been underway at many communities to determine how to market events and tours, now that visitors are starting to be allowed on-site. “Our marketing plan calls for the first in-person event in July, but who knows,” said one participant. “The big word right now is ‘agility.’ Things change every week.”

Even masks may, at some point, be a thing of the past. “The governor announced in Ohio that once our infection rate goes down for two weeks running, we can do away with masks,” commented one participant.

But things are still in a constant state of flux — although, to put things in perspective, the marketing landscape is much better than this time last year. “Last year, the plan went out the window completely,” said one participant. “This year, at least we’ll have a plan that will be fluid.”

Government guidelines cause frustration

Throughout the month, some confusion occurred around the CDC guidelines, and many resident family members continue to be frustrated at the no-visit rules, even when both parties have been vaccinated.

“People are confused and it’s making things harder before they will get easier,” said one community marketer. “If I were a family member or a resident, I’d be beside myself.”

Another negative was that assisted living is in a decline at some communities, although independent living seems to be doing well, according to several participants.

“IL has been going really well,” said one marketer. “We sold our last two high-end apartments, three garden apartments and many others. All four IL areas are pretty much full. SNF is at 50%. AL is also not doing well. Our digital team is saying that people aren’t searching for AL anymore and that the search is really down. We’re not sure how we’ll fill these areas.”

But, overall, communities are feeling optimistic, as prospects who were staying home begin to venture out.  “Last week, we had four sales, which we attribute to pent-up demand,” one participant said. “People can now come into the community for a full tour and to meet residents.”

Here’s to even more positive news in April! Stay tuned for our next monthly recap of our roundtable discussions.

As always, you are welcome to join our Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET and 11 a.m. CT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.



At our 41st weekly sales and marketing roundtable, the mood was on the upswing as the vaccine gave inquiries and sales at communities around the country a boost.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, January 28, at noon ET.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.



At last week’s sales and marketing roundtable, the hot topics were the vaccine (or lack of it), move-ins, and tips for keeping virtual events fresh.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, January 21, 2021, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

At our first sales & marketing roundtable of the new year, communities discussed the exciting news of the COVID-19 vaccine and shared tips for virtual events and video floor plans.


Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, January 14, 2021, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

At our 34th sales and marketing roundtable, we shared our successes and setbacks during the pandemic. We were also fortunate to have one participant share takeaways from this year’s SMASH conference.

Check out the recap and conference takeaways below. We also invite you to attend our next roundtable this week.

Takeaways from the SMASH Conference 

Over 200 sales and marketing professionals from senior living organizations of all sizes across the U.S. participated. One of our roundtable attendees shared these takeaways:

Biggest Sales and Marketing Trends

  1. Since COVID-19, leads and occupancy have plunged across the board.
  2. The deepest occupancy decreases have been in assisted living, with the toughest objection being “Why would I move my mom into assisted living when I know I won’t be able to see her for months?”
  3. Marketing budgets are not being cut and, in many instances, they are being increased.
  4. Marketing dollars are being reallocated from events and on-site activities to digital, SEO/SEM, virtual tours, videos and webinars.
  5. Marketing automation (automated lead nurture) is by far the #2 marketing priority after digital paid search and search engine optimization (SEO/SEM).
  6. Marketing messages have pivoted for assisted living and memory care to safety and security. IL messages are still about lifestyle, with a bit of safety and security in the message mix.
  7. Website — making sure the messages are appropriate/correct for the times. For most senior living communities, COVID-19 info has recently been moved from front and center to a smaller tab on the homepage, still easily accessible.
  8. Salespeople across the board are still focusing 100% of their time on sales, including nurturing the wait list/depositors, cold calling, working through the database, delivering treats/meals to depositors, virtual tours, apartment tours, answering website/call leads, etc. Activity team members, as well as social workers and front desk team members, are taking care of all window/outside visits, temperature taking, Facetime/Skyping with family members, virtual doctor visits, etc.
  9. Sales messaging, especially for assisted living — do not lead with COVID-19. We are living with COVID-19 24/7; however, prospects are calling us because mom/dad needs more help. They want to know how we can help them first and foremost.
  10. “Backstage Pass” — can’t tour the community, but can tour individual apartments.

Interesting Sales and Marketing Stats

  • New reality — 90% of prospects do not want to talk with us. They just want more information (which they are finding digitally via Google, website, videos, Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
  • Across the U.S. in CCRCs:
    • 43% increase in cost per conversion in digital search
    • 39% decrease in goal completion (filling out a form, calling, etc.)
    • 103% increase in phone calls (these are not all sales calls)
  • 70% of adult daughters find care for their parents through digital (up from 50% not so long ago)
  • Google will drive 90% of digital leads
  • 77% of searches for senior care begin online … even for skilled nursing
  • 80% of senior living search online is Google, Facebook and individual community websites
  • 6 billion minutes of content per week are consumed via video
  • 3 connected devices per person — and we switch between them all day long
  • Average number of brand touchpoints = six per person … up from two 10 years ago.
  • 92% of consumers begin their healthcare search online — with 6,000 searches related to long-term care EVERY HOUR
  • 88% of residents overall would recommend LTC. (Perception: 24% of seniors don’t want to move to LTC. Reality: 88% who live in LTC really love it.)

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, November 19, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@Varsitybranding.com.



At our weekly sales & marketing roundtable, we all shared creative tactics we’re using to attract prospects as COVID-19 rates spike in some areas. We’d especially like to thank Lana Peck, senior principal at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) for sharing the latest insights from executive surveys completed since the pandemic hit.

Check out the insights and survey results below. We also invite you to our next roundtable this week.

NIC Executive Survey Insights with Lana Peck

The full report is on the NIC website. Wave 14 findings can be found here.

We had 70 organizations respond to wave 14:

  • Not the same 70 for every wave, but 60–70% are repeat takers, so there is some continuity.
  • Geographical dispersion of respondents:
    • There’s a slight underrepresentation in the Northeast compared to national coverage of the NIC map.
    • For the most part, participants are coming from all over the country.
  • We’re promoting this more strongly with operators, as we’re getting some national media exposure.
    • It is important for operators to know that, by participating in the survey, they have the opportunity to ensure that the narrative is accurate.

  • We went from ⅓ in wave 10 (early August) to just under ⅔ in the most recent wave — a lot more organizations are offering rent concessions.
  • 90% of organizations are paying overtime to mitigate staffing issues.
  • Staffing/temp agency usage has grown throughout the pandemic.
  • About ⅔ of organizations that have IL in portfolio are offering rent concessions.
  • Organizations with nursing care are less likely to offer rent concessions.
  • Discussion from the group:
    • We are giving concessions on entrance fees and support on moving services.
    • We are offering $3,000 toward moving expenses and incentives to get people to move more quickly.

  • Organizations reporting no change in pace have been growing. It’s the highest it’s been in wave 14.
  • Deceleration of move-ins is lower in IL, AL and MC in wave 14.
  • Most respondents are citing increased resident demand (increase in move-ins).
  • Fewer organizations with nursing care beds in wave 14 reported acceleration in the pace of move-ins, with the fewest respondents citing hospital placement since wave 7 surveyed mid-May — presumably due to anecdotal reports of hospitals sending patients straight home to recuperate from surgeries or illnesses with in-home health care.
  • A quarter of organizations have a backlog of residents waiting to move in.

  • Organizations may be providing incentives. The month-over-month change in occupancy has been starting to rise.
  • About ¼ of the organizations that have IL in their portfolio; ⅓ of those with AL; ½ of those with MC; and about ½ with nursing care are seeing an upward change in occupancy rates in the past 30 days.
  • Fewer folks that have IL are seeing a decrease in occupancy.
  • 48% in nursing care are seeing increases, and 37% are seeing decreases.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, November 5, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

At our 31st weekly sales and marketing roundtable, communities shared their challenges, solutions and one often-used event topic that’s still getting amazing traction.

Put these ideas to work for your community by checking out the recap below.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, October 29, at noon ET.

Lana Peck, senior principal at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC), will be joining us again to discuss the recent NIC 2020 Fall Conference and findings on the next wave of surveys. 

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

Recently, Robert Speker, the activities coordinator at Sydmar Lodge in Edgware, North London, UK, spoke to Varsity about his acclaimed project of working with residents to recreate iconic album covers. Although this idea has caught fire on social media with over 11 million views, captured the attention of think tanks, and been referenced in professional care articles, it’s far from the only thing that Robert does to inspire residents. He takes them to rock concerts, throws special celebrations, and is constantly thinking of new ways to add excitement to their lives. To see Robert’s latest photos and keep up to date with his creative projects, follow him on Twitter: @RobertSpeker.

Below, Robert provides some advice for communities that want to keep residents engaged during coronavirus and beyond.

How has COVID-19 impacted your community?

Care homes are in quite a unique situation; we’re in a little isolated bubble, where people who live here haven’t left the home in six months, aside from going outside in the garden, which is something that is really unfathomable. In spite of it all, older people are still living their lives, continuing to remain positive in such difficult circumstances.

What ideas have you implemented to engage your residents, other than taking photographs of them to recreate classic album covers?

There are other wild and crazy ideas that we use to excite the lives of the residents who live here, to make sure that their time spent here is enjoyable and also productive.

For instance, we do a lot of awareness days. There’s a day for every single type of food. I love residents tasting different types of food that they don’t normally have. We extend this to alcohol as well. We’ve done Whisky Day, Tequila Day, Beer Day, Wine Day and more. It’s not about making residents alcoholics. It’s trying to dispel this idea that these old people just sit there. They can still enjoy new experiences. They’ve had drinks all their lives; why should it stop just because they come into a care setting? I’m all for encouraging them to have a social drink because that’s normal and can be great fun.

I also give residents the chance to do things they have aspired to or that they have never had the chance to experience. Before COVID, I was able to take a 92-year-old resident to see her favorite singer perform live in concert or take a 91-year-old swimming for the first time in over 20 years. Now I just have to rethink to still provide experiences for the residents.

What advice would you give other communities that want to engage residents?

I think you have to get to know each individual resident as well as possible. That can only be done by talking to them, to family members, and to colleagues, and just trying to find out information about what they like, what they don’t like, what they used to do for a career, and their social activities.

How many of these seniors actually used to play bingo before moving into a care home? I can probably tell you—not many. I’m not trying to knock bingo. Bingo is still a fun game. It has good benefits. But there’s more than you can do (in communities) than play board games, cards games and bingo.

It’s really just a case of trying to think up these different ideas. My awareness days are each just one day when somebody can try or taste something different. It’s about sensory experience—whether it’s about taste or hearing or seeing something. All of these sensory experiences can make people remember things from the past, which is a great way to get the brain really working.

Can you talk about your award for Best Activities Coordinator?

That was last year. I was nominated by the manager and some family members as well. And it was just a lovely thing to know that what I was doing was appreciated and acknowledged—even though I don’t do this work to get acknowledgment. There are many things that I do which are never going to be seen; only the residents and I know about what I’ve done. I prefer to keep it that way. Usually nobody ever finds out, but it is very nice to get appreciation, so I was grateful to receive that award from The London Borough of Barnet.

How can people help others who live in care homes?

During lockdown, we’ve seen the importance of people helping each other out. We’ve had a lot of people asking what they can do to help, and I hope that will continue afterwards when we’re open for regular visiting and everything is safe.

A care community can be a welcoming place, where people can drop in just to say hello to the residents. You may not have ever met them, but why not give half an hour of your time to speak to somebody who has lived a long life with lots of experiences? We can all learn something from the elder generation.

One way Robert and his residents are helping others is by raising funds for three charities: DementiaFriends.org.uk, Alzheimers.org.uk and AgeUK.org.uk

You can join the cause by donating through their GoFundMe page or by ordering a charity calendar they’re creating. Watch Robert’s Twitter page at @RobertSpeker to see when the calendar comes out and how to order it. 

Last week at our virtual sales and marketing roundtable, participants shared that they are trying new sales strategies and working to debunk the myths of COVID-19.

Dig into the recap below. Please also join us for our next roundtable, coming up this week.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, October 15, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

Robert Speker, Activities Coordinator at Sydmar Lodge  in Edgware, North London, UK, and his residents have passed the time through lockdown by recreating famous album covers. Posing while wearing similar clothing, makeup and expressions, the residents (and the caregivers as well) have redone album covers by the Beatles, Lady Gaga, Adele, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, The Clash, U2, Elvis Presley, Madonna and others. And they’re still going.

Robert started this project to keep residents engaged and entertained during social distancing. Rather than passing the time playing bingo or watching TV, he felt they needed something more inspiring to do. It was a huge surprise to all of them when the project quickly went viral on social media and gained international recognition. Robert has done 80 to 100 TV and print interviews, and was gracious enough to talk to Varsity. See his ongoing artistic collaborations with residents at @RobertSpeker on Twitter.

Why did you begin this project?

It was something I’d long thought about, but I don’t usually have a lot of time. However, during lockdown, I had more time to put on different activities with the residents particularly when no family visits were allowed. That was the impetus for me actually starting the project. Once I had explained to each resident what I wanted to do, they got on board really quickly, with great enthusiasm.

What have been some of the highlights of the experience?

There have been many. David Bowie’s widow Iman retweeted it.  It’s just a phenomenal thing to know that the love of his life has seen this project and has liked it.

Midge Ure challenged me to do the Ultravox album cover of Vienna, which was just celebrating its 40th anniversary. So I felt the need to be able to do it. After I sent the photo out, he sent a really lovely message. As a special surprise for resident Sheila Solomon’s 92nd birthday, I’d arranged for her to meet Rag’n’Bone Man backstage before one of his concert. He was really lovely with her. He is a huge guy… he gave her a signed album. It was the one with the tattoo, so I knew that I had to get her doing this cover, complete with tattoo, temporary in Sheila’s case.

Sheila also recreated the Clash cover (a redo of an Elvis Presley album). She’s a real character. There’s not many 94-year-olds that still like going to rock concerts! She’s just waiting for lockdown to end so she can go and see Ed Sheeran. 

How did you choose the residents and carers for the photos?

It was partly on their look, say, if they had a similar hairstyle, but also based on music preference. They had heard all of the artists⎯they might not know exactly the song, but they all know and have listened to all of the different artists. So it was a case of showing them the album covers. It was interesting to discuss different covers and see how the image appears to someone in their 90s, and then it was a case of matching it in that way and taking some photos.

How did you choose the album covers?

I wanted the covers to be ones which were easily recognizable ⎯ the word “iconic” springs to mind. Even if the photo won’t have the name of either the singer or the group, you’ll know almost immediately who that artist is.

What impact has your project had on morale among residents and staff?

Well, they really have loved doing it. And obviously the global response has just been overwhelming. It’s been absolutely awesome, really phenomenal and so positive. They loved seeing the coverage on TV and in the press. For the residents and the staff to receive such warm wishes from around the world is really heartwarming ⎯ especially in this time when we are still in lockdown. Residents are only seeing their families maybe a couple times a week, if that, literally for 20 minutes, at two-meter distances, with masks on. The positivity was really needed. And while I was doing it just to create some smiles, it has also raised awareness of care homes—the people who are living and are working in them.

Did that play a role in changing the perception of older individuals?

It certainly did, because it made people realize that care homes aren’t this stagnant environment where residents just sit around in a circle, either sleeping or watching television. We try to encourage them to do as much as they possibly can. My mantra is: Use it or lose it. So often I say, if you can do it yourself, do it, because you don’t want to get to that stage where you actually aren’t able to do it; so once you can still do something, do it. And with these photos, they were all able to do it, they all enjoyed doing it. So it was that kind of feeling of knowing how care homes are perceived not only in the UK, but obviously in America and other countries, and we’re trying to knock that theory out of the window.

Are there any residents who said, “Hey, I want to be included”?

Yeah, we had a few, and their family members would get involved by saying, “I think Mummy would be good at this.” Or, “Why don’t we use Dad for this?” Then we’ve got residents saying, “What am I going to do? When am I going to be photographed?”

How did people find out about it?

Initially I sent it out on Facebook, to the families, and then posted on Twitter and Instagram. On Twitter, that’s where it went really completely crazy—just to learn who had seen it and how many people had seen it. I said to the residents, over 11 million people have seen these photos. It’s quite unbelievable. 

How were you able to do all the makeup, hair, body painting, photography and editing?

When I’ve got an idea such as this in mind, I like to do it myself, because I know what I need to achieve, rather than trying to explain it to someone else. Also, I didn’t want a lot of people knowing about it, just so that it could be focused on that individual. I could just take them off quietly. There’s no hoo-ha about it. I’d spend 30 minutes or an hour with them. Doing the makeup or the set or the hair.

Can you talk about why you made some of the details in the photos different?

Martin, the gentleman in the Springsteen photo, he’s got his own baseball cap, so I thought, I’m going to use that cap. And I’ve tried to do that throughout, so if there’s an item of clothing that the actual individual has already, then I want that to be in the photo. Sheila had a jumper similar to Rag’n’Bone Man’s, so that’s what I got her to wear. For Hilda and Blink-182 — the model is wearing a red bra, which wouldn’t have been appropriate for her. I showed a lovely red jumper of Hilda’s. Whether it’s an item of jewelry or a piece of clothing, I use things that belong to the residents, to make sure that it’s about them in the photo, not just their body, but also other aspects of their personality.

 Have other communities reached out to you about your project?

Yes. Another care home messaged me and said, “We hope you don’t mind, we saw what you did, and we’ve also tried to have a little go at that.” I think that’s a wonderful thing — especially during this time, when other care homes are in isolation — we need to be sharing ideas. And if this can work in other settings, then I’m all for it. It’s not a competition about who can do the best; it’s about making sure that seniors are engaged and have activities to do.

What has been your favorite thing about the project?

Suddenly, our residents are in the spotlight; they are the main talking point, having done something absolutely phenomenal. They have been able to talk so much about this to their peers, to family, to staff. It’s amazing that it’s still carrying on. Which is a beautiful thing. 

It’s not only just making somebody smile, it’s the fact that residents are talked about. And it’s not about the famous singers, it’s about our residents. It is really humbling personally for me. I never expected the impact and the response. I’m really overwhelmed, and the residents just absolutely love receiving the messages and can’t quite believe that people in America, Australia and all over the world have seen these photos and want to connect with us.

It has been a lovely ride that we’ve all been on. I’ve really shared it, the whole way, with the residents, which is just a lovely thing.

During COVID-19, Robert and the residents of Sydmar Lodge Care Home are helping others by raising funds for three charities: DementiaFriends.org.uk, Alzheimers.org.uk and AgeUK.org.ukYou can join the cause by donating through their GoFundMe page or by ordering a charity calendar they’re creating. Watch Robert’s Twitter page (@RobertSpeker) to see when the calendar comes out and how to order it. 

At Roundtable #28, community marketers shared their feelings about the pandemic and explained why some are seeing a sales spike this fall.

Dig into the takeaways below.  Please also join us for our next virtual roundtable this week. For log-in information,  contact DDunham@Varsitybranding.com.



Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, October 8, at noon ET.

Get log-in information here.

At our virtual sales and marketing roundtable, we brainstormed tactics to help prospects overcome their reluctance to move during a pandemic.

Check out the takeaways below. Please also join us for our next roundtable, coming up this week.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, September 24, at noon ET.

We’ll be joined by Lana Peck, Senior Principal at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC). She’ll be discussing insights from NIC’s ongoing executive survey. NIC has conducted 12 waves of surveys with C-suite execs, across senior living, with near real-time data on the pulse of the market and the fundamentals of senior housing. The study includes topics like changes in occupancy, how communities are supporting staff and reasons for acceleration and deceleration of move-ins (among other topics).

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.


At our weekly sales and marketing roundtable, aging services expert Scott Townsley, principal of Trilogy Consulting, LLC, joined us to discuss consumer research and other insights related to the pandemic.

Check out the takeaways below. Please also join us for our next roundtable, coming this week.

Highlights from presentation on consumer research by Scott Townsley, Principal, Trilogy Consulting, LLC:

Opportunities are already emerging amid COVID-19—this will change who we are as a field and will change the product. Here are some resources that can be helpful as you deal with this situation.

The End of Competitive Advantage and Seeing Around Corners, two excellent books by Rita Gunther McGrath

  • “Inflection point” is a key concept she discusses, which she describes as jerking the steering wheel while driving
  • Unfortunately, by the time you recognize an inflection point, it can be too late; for example, discovering that occupancy has dropped from 96% to 80%, and it’s not going back up
  • My observation is that skilled nursing is at an inflection point—it was already changing, but the coronavirus has pushed it to this point—and that a portion of it will be forever changed
  • Life Plan Communities aren’t at an inflection point yet, but we need to have our eyes wide open

Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing, by Jamie Holmes

  • “While uncertainties can be painful, they are also, by definition, eras of change. They’re destabilizing because they’re a threat to the status quo, which is also precisely why they represent an opportunity for innovative and cultural rebirth.”
  • The risk is that we seek information or anecdotes that hint we’re returning to the “way things were” sooner rather than later—rather than seeking actual data
  • We can’t look to the past (even January 2020) for clues about the future, because we’re probably going to be wrong; I refer to it as the “perilous backslide to the status quo,” in which we will innately make decisions thinking things will get back to “normal”
  • Virtual tours are a great example of how we’ve adapted
  • When I first saw a billboard for telemedicine, years ago, I thought, “Who’s going to want telemedicine?” But without it, many people (particularly in skilled nursing) wouldn’t have been able to see their physicians; we went from talking about it to it being a key part of life

Consumer Behavior Survey

We just completed a 1,000-person survey of four market areas in Pennsylvania (southeastern, south-central, west-central and northeast), one in Maryland and one in Delaware.

Too often, we’re talking in anecdotes, but we need to use data that tracks consumer behavior. This is especially risky when talking about the coronavirus.

  • Background on the study
    • Participants are 60 to 80 years old; all income groups
    • Conducted last week in July/first week in August
    • Asked approximately 50 questions
    • All telephone conversations (landline and mobile)
    • Allowed us to reach the “essential non-customers”
    • With people at home, it was easier to reach them; they’re still answering their phones
    • Completed 1,000 surveys in five days
  • What’s key is that this survey has statistical validity—it provides insight into the thinking of consumers rather than anecdotes

Early on, it was clear that we (as an industry) knew neither the questions to ask nor the answers. Today, there’s more clarity about the former (the questions that we, as an industry, should be asking) and an ability to obtain the answers. Hence this survey.

We asked the question, “How concerned are you about coronavirus in your area?” Seventy-eight percent are very or somewhat concerned about the coronavirus in their area. For those whose adult children are involved in making decisions about retirement living options, that number increases to 87 percent.

It’s also notable that, in this and prior surveys:

  • The percentage of people who are concerned about future long-term care needs is typically low
  • The percentage of people who are concerned about their ability to afford their retirement is also low
  • The percentage of people who are concerned about dementia or Alzheimer’s, for themselves and those they love, is incrementally higher than the other two—but still a fraction of those concerned about the coronavirus

We then assessed the impact of COVID-19 on Senior Living Community (SLC) interest later in the study:

  • By and large, every cross-tab is very or less interested due to the coronavirus
    • With respect to SLC interest, there are as many people who are less interested as there are who are more interested—due to the coronavirus
    • Interestingly, people who identify as evangelicals are 17% less interested in senior living communities than the average (due to the coronavirus)
    • There’s still a core of people who remain interested, which may be proving the naysayers wrong, but: (a) it’s too soon to know for sure, and (b) the coronavirus has significantly reduced interest in senior living “congregate”-type options
      • The field could be in jeopardy if the virus stays around
      • The virus has, conversely, also made some people more interested
    • Note: This study won’t be valid six months or a year from now—everything is changing so quickly
    • It’s critical to talk to people who are “the essential non-customers”—those who are living outside the senior living world (and who aren’t on your lists)—to understand who is motivated and why
      • Ask how they feel about congregate living on their overall health and well-being
      • In unprecedented times, we need to rely on information that’s current
    • I was wrong about the recession in 2008–2010—I thought the loss of value in portfolios would have a searing effect on people’s decisions about senior living, much in the way the depression impacted how people spent money
      • This didn’t happen, and the for-profit sector took advantage of that
      • The not-for-profit sector did not jump on it
    • It’s possible that, six months from now, if there’s an effective vaccine, the consumer could forget about this—but it’s also possible that it will stay with them for a long time, perhaps forever
    • It’s important to note that concerns about the coronavirus did not increase the interest in a stay-at-home program (though the percentage of people “very interested” in a stay-at-home program is twice what it is for a senior living community)
    • HJ Sims is soon coming out with a national study that will be fascinating to review; it, hopefully, will include all regions of the country, not just those heavily impacted by COVID-19
    • The secret to success is data analytics, and WildFig (Varsity’s sister firm) is ahead of the curve
    • “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that: It’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” – Rahm Emanuel

Please join us for our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, September 17, at noon ET.

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.


Last week, at our sales and marketing roundtable, communities shared creative ways to drive move-ins and brainstormed solutions to their biggest reopening challenges.

Dig into the recap below. Please also join us for our next virtual roundtable, coming this week!


Please join our next roundtable discussions on Thursday, September 3, and Thursday, September 10, at noon ET.

On September 10, aging services expert Scott Townsley from Trilogy Consulting will be joining us to discuss consumer research and other insights related to the pandemic.

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.


As communities gathered virtually last week, most people seemed to be feeling frustrated, finding that prospects of late are need-driven. On a positive note, salespeople realized they aren’t alone, and it was comforting to know that others are in the same boat.

Check out the highlights of our discussion below. Please also join us for our next sales and marketing roundtable, coming up next week.


Join the next sales and marketing roundtable on August 13!

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, August 13, at noon ET.

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.



In this guest post, Jill Janes, vice president of sales and marketing at Methodist Retirement Communities (MRC), shares her secrets for selling and marketing communities during challenging times. A former stay-at-home mom, Jill first worked in senior living as a temp and split-shift cook. She was quickly promoted to receptionist, then told by her superiors, “You should be in marketing.” After hitting sales records and winning promotions, Jill became a regional manager across Kansas and Missouri; then, she was recruited to MRC, back in her home state of Texas.

Sales is about getting around barriers. If you’re a real salesperson to the core, and a true professional, the COVID-19 situation is just another obstacle you have to work around. It’s done nothing for our team but stimulate our creativity. Here’s one strategy we’ve been using during these times: the blue-sky approach.

The reason why people like selling brand-new blue-sky communities is that the number one objection to senior living is, “I’m not ready yet.” The reason why blue sky is so fun to sell—and why so many salespeople are successful at it—is that, when people say, “I’m not ready yet,” we reply with: “No problem—neither are we! The place isn’t even built yet. Relax. Enjoy these community benefits while you wait.”

It’s a low-pressure way to gain commitment for a promised move-in down the road.

Over 40 percent of people who put down a blue-sky deposit will cancel, and that’s okay. They give the gift of urgency to the market—the pressure builds for other people to get more skin in the game. Even if they cancel, they help build a viable path to achieving sales goals. As salespeople, we enter a blue-sky situation knowing full well that everyone who deposits isn’t moving in.

During COVID-19, we can use a blue-sky approach to existing inventory. We can take a risk-free, fully refundable deposit from a potential resident without the pressure of a move-in date, but with the right of first refusal.

Prospects can choose a risk-free, fully refundable deposit, with priority access to care, and the opportunity to move in when they’re ready. If someone comes along behind them, interested in the community, the original prospect has the right of first refusal. In this scenario, we can call the original prospect, and ask them to schedule a move-in date within 90 days of the phone call.

What we’re finding is that, when someone has a deposit but no move-in date (they’re on the fence), someone else being ready to move in helps enormously. Eventually these depositors are inclined to say, “We need to do this; we’re going to miss out on this opportunity. We would love a situation where we don’t have to muscle through the grocery store because we ran out of toilet paper.”

The more deposits we get, the more we’re able to create that sense of urgency among depositors.

For example, we can then say to the other prospect, “I’m sorry; this couple is going to take the apartment. Let’s look at our second choice.” From there, we ask the people who have the deposit on the second apartment if they’re ready. They say, “We’re going to move in.” So we say, again, “Sorry, the second couple says they’re going to move in; let’s go to your third choice.” Before we know it, we’ve got three move-ins.

This type of blue-sky strategy can continue, too, as the world looks different post-COVID-19. We can create a benefit package and give people lower-pressure opportunities to invest in their future.

To keep people interested once they’ve put down a deposit, we have to change our tactics. You can learn more about how we’re bringing the community experience to depositors at home in an upcoming blog.

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. To draw attention to memory issues, Jennifer Honeyford, senior director of resident life and performance improvement at The Philadelphia Protestant Home (PPH), is sharing the community’s innovative programs and her personal experience with caring for people with dementia.

Walking in Their Shoes

It’s so important to really understand what life is like for people with dementia. One of the projects we started at the end of 2018 was to increase our staff knowledge of this condition. We surveyed everyone and asked them what they wanted to know, and then, we looked for educational programs that would teach those topics. We found that almost everyone has a personal connection with the disease, as well as a professional one. The staff were really open to the education.

One of the initiatives that came out of the survey was a virtual dementia tour, which we are now licensed through Second Wind Dreams to operate on campus. We are able to offer this sensitivity training program through a grant that was funded through the Ron S! Charitable Fund and the Anna T. Jeanes Foundation.

The tour is basically eight minutes in the world of someone living with moderate-stage dementia. Our staff are assigned a time to come into a room we have set up. They are outfitted with glasses that distort vision. They wear a headset with sound running through it that gives them auditory hallucinations. They wear thick, heavy gloves, which limit their ability to grasp and touch. Finally, they have eight minutes in the room to complete five tasks — which are virtually impossible to complete in that time.

Feedback Has Been Phenomenal

We’ve had about 65 staff members including upper management go through the training, as well as some family members. They describe it as “powerful” and “humbling.” After going through the experience, staff members have said they will never be impatient again. They say things like, “I felt so isolated, so alone. I had no idea how hard it is to have dementia. I will be patient, I will be kind.”

What’s beautiful is that they are experiencing the disease firsthand. The learning is theirs — they are interpreting it for themselves.

If we who have healthy brains can act as if we have dementia, then why can’t someone who has dementia better navigate this condition if we alter their environment? By understanding how confusing and overwhelming life with dementia is, we can look for those things that might be triggering and upsetting and help them to better navigate their daily landscape.

Why I Entered the Memory Care Field

My whole life, I’ve had an overactive imagination. Health care was just a good fit for me — especially dementia care, because you have to be able to enter people’s worlds and see things from their perspective. I started in health care, directing recreation therapy, then I moved into a senior director role. I provide administrative oversight to our recreation therapy and life enrichment departments, including Chapters, the memory care program at PPH. I’ve been here for 22 years, and I feel like I’ve grown up here.

What Residents with Dementia Have Taught Me

I think that what residents with dementia have taught me is to enjoy the simple things in life — to be kind,  genuine and patient.

You have to be able to imagine where they are because you want to be able to understand them and be empathetic to their needs. That’s what excites me most — being able to come up with a solution to a problem. We look at the person’s leisure interests and former occupation to give us cues so we can offer them purpose and enable them to do things for themselves.

One way we help employees from all areas of PPH gain understanding of residents with memory issues is through a certified dementia practitioner (CDP) program, led by four certified on-site trainers, including myself. Fifty staff members from all disciplines have taken the training, which has proven invaluable to them. Read more about the PPH dementia training program here. To learn more about  CDP credentials, please visit nccdp.org.

No matter what we remember or what we forget, we still have that human need for purpose — we need to be seen, valued and heard. I want to treat people with dementia with the dignity and respect that they have earned. They deserve that.


As some communities began to loosen restrictions, we all came together virtually for roundtable #12 to share our challenges and successes. Cara Stefchak, our senior social media strategist, shared tips on using social media during COVID-19.

Check out the highlights of our discussion below. Please also join us for our next sales & marketing roundtable, coming up this week.

Social Media discussion

  • What we heard last week
    • Mental health remains a challenge for residents.
    • Communities are gathering testimonials from residents (virtual resident panels).
    • Lifestyle is a focus in marketing. (There is an opportunity to  enjoy amenities while social distancing.)
    • Virtual presentations, tours and open houses are happening.
    • “Old-school” messages still apply for prospects: Safety and security are key.
    • Let’s talk about what these could look like in the social space.
  • Mental health
    • Opportunity to hold events that bring the community “together” and showcase initiatives you’re doing to keep spirits up.
    • Capture some moments from events your community may be hosting to use as social content: virtual happy hours, performances, socially distant activities, etc.
  • Think: What moments are coming up that we can use to surprise and delight our community?
    • First day of summer
      • Delivery of summer flowers
      • Virtual happy hour with a summery cocktail
    • Father’s Day
      • Meal delivery to dads
      • Special offer on any services for dads
      • Entertainment or activity to honor the day
    • Capture and share these efforts on social!
  • Virtual events
    • Whether it’s programming for current residents or information for prospective members, both can be promoted on social.
    • Promote online events on your Facebook page, or even set up as an event on Facebook so people can invite others and get a reminder as the event approaches.
      • Before: Provide the event details, topic, any relevant RSVP information needed.
      • Before: As the event gets closer, and even the day of, send out a reminder.
      • Before: If there are special speakers, encourage them to share and promote the event on their own social channels (encourages sign-ups and introduces your community to new eyes!).
      • After: Any high-level takeaways you can share? #ICYMI
      • After: Encourage people to follow the page so they can be the first to know about future events happening that they can join!
  • Open houses
    • Open houses done virtually allow so many prospects who may not be in your footprint right now to be able to take a tour.
    • You can either capture them on video (with your phone!) to post after the fact or use Facebook’s livestream feature for a more real-time approach.
      • Tours of rooms, common areas (resident or staff tour guides)
      • A walk around the community (showcase amenities and landscape)
      • Interview a resident (prep him or her beforehand)
      • Not sure what to show? Using Facebook’s polling feature, ask your prospects what spaces or people they want to see or learn more about.
  • COVID-19
    • Do you have a blog program in place on your website? If so, develop content that speaks to this time and link to it on social.
      • Examples of blog topics that can be promoted on your social feeds:
        • With current residents in mind:
          • How to Stay Active at Home
          • Staying Connected While Keeping Socially Distant
          • The Importance of Self-care in Senior Living
          • Five Virtual Ways to Celebrate Dad During Father’s Day
        • With prospective/future residents in mind
          • Planning for Your Future in Uncertain Time
          • Five Amenities Available Right in Your Footprint
          • Tips for Downsizing and Moving During COVID-19
    • Use your social platforms to provide the latest updates and protocol as they relate to your communities.
    • Over half of U.S. adults are getting at least some information about COVID-19 from social media (eMarketer).
    • Filter your content through the lens of: How can we be a resource for people right now?
    • Don’t be afraid to pull the curtain back to show what changes look like in your community. Be transparent.
    • As services begin to open up and visitation measures get more defined, paint that picture on social of what it looks like for your community.
      • Communicate updates
      • Continue to push resources
      • Show what they look like in practice
      • Talk about your safety and security services
    • It helps current residents stay informed and shows prospects that you’re on top of things.
  • What are communities hearing from their social communities right now?
    • When we shoot videos, we put them on YouTube and link to them on Facebook. We’ve had 127 page followers since COVID-19 started. We’ve never done so many videos. My goal is to show people at home how our residents are not socially isolated. People think our residents have to stay in their rooms (which is not true), so this is a way to show them out riding their bikes and enjoying life.
    • I love the personal virtual tour! It lends a personality to the tour. It’s all about building a relationship with the prospect.
    • Facebook is the best platform for senior living (if you were to pick just one). The other platforms skew a bit younger, which may not be the best fit. Facebook is an appropriate place to be playing.
    • LinkedIn is more for corporate messaging and recruiting (vs. outreach for prospects).
    • Facebook and Instagram are the biggest opportunities for general reach/audience.
      • Instagram allows for video content wonderfully; it’s a very visual platform.
    • Pinterest is a discovery platform. People are coming here looking for inspiration, DIY items, general wellness content (which may be appropriate for our space). We haven’t seen any senior living organizations on Pinterest, but it could be interesting.
    • Ideas discussed:
      • Featuring different team members on social media to explain their roles
      • Virtual tours so prospects can see your community
      • Sharing relevant news articles on your social channel — you don’t need to build from nothing; include other sources
      • Advice that residents would give to graduates
      • Social space is moving toward user-generated content vs. high-quality, produced content. Taking photos with your iPhone is perfectly acceptable.
  • Questions for the group
    • Is anyone doing any off-campus events?
      • It doesn’t appear that any other communities on the call had done so yet.
      • If doing this, be sure to tag the event space (example: a botanical garden) in your social media post pre- and post-event to expand your audience reach.

Join the next roundtable on June 18!

You are welcome to join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, June 18, at 12 p.m. ET.

You don’t have to be a client to join — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.



Communities in different parts of the country came together last Thursday to share their thoughts and challenges as shutdowns continue. Jackie Stone, VP of sales at Varsity, joined our general discussion to share insights on virtual event topics and processes during social distancing.

Check out the takeaways below. You are also welcome to join our next sales & marketing roundtable, coming up this week.

Jackie leads a discussion on virtual presentations:

  • Presentation objectives
    • New lead generation
      • Use the purchased email list and lead base
      • Select universal topics of interest to anyone
      • Ensure that the presentation represents the lifestyle at the community and reinforces the established brand
    • Sales presentation
      • Target the lead base
      • Address common objections
        • “I’m not ready yet.”
        • “I want to stay independent.”
        • “I’ve lived here for 50 years; I don’t know where to start.”
        • “This apartment is so small.”
        • “I don’t want to live with all old people.”
        • “How would I even go about selling my home?”
        • “The economy/stock market is unstable.”
      • Personalize to the prospect
        • Customized to each individual prospect — what he or she values in life and in a community
  • Potential presentation topics
    • New lead generation
      • Mindfulness — Putting Your Practice Into Place
      • Healthy Aging: Achieving Wellness in All Dimensions
      • Living a Big Life
      • Dispelling the Myths of Retirement Living
    • Sales presentations
      • Decluttering Your Life to Make Room for Experiences
      • Living a Big Life
      • Bridging the Gap Between “I’m Not Ready Yet” and “I Wish I Had Done This Sooner”
      • Protecting Your Nest Egg
      • Does a Life Plan Community Make Sense for Me?
      • Selling Your Home in a Virtual World
    • Personalizing to the prospect
      • Presentation of the community’s services, amenities, residences and benefits
      • Video walking tour of the community
      • Happy hour Zoom call
  • Marketing automation
    • Targeting prospects
      • Email seminar invitation
      • Confirmation and login instructions
      • Resending of seminar invitation to those that did not open the original email
      • Reminder email two days prior to the event
    • Communicating with those who did attend
      • Post-webinar “Thank you for joining us”
      • Survey
      • What other topics might interest you?
      • Schedule a private appointment?
      • Next seminar invitation
    • Communicating with those who did not attend
      • “We missed you” email
    • Schedule a private appointment?
    • Next seminar invitation
  • Typical attendance expectations
    • We’ve seen anywhere from 7–10, 25–30 and close to 50, so it can really vary.

Where are you doing to go from here with marketing?

  • It depends on your community.
    • Examples:
      • One community is stretched for dollars because of the current bond market.
      • Other communities may have more money to spend, with cancelling in-person marketing events.
    • You may need to move dollars around in your budget. The focus will need to be on engaging prospects in blue sky projects. If you don’t use the money this year, you won’t have it next year! Spend it wisely, and don’t let it go.
    • An AL community in New York has online events/speakers every week. It’s very buttoned up and structured — link to check out: https://inspireseniorliving.com/events.
    • I think we’ll be Zooming for a long time.
    • Follow these virtual call tips.
      • Do a roll call.
      • Ask what participants miss during this time of quarantine. If they say Starbucks, deliver a coffee to their doorstep.

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on June 4!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session on Thursday, June 4, at 12 p.m. ET.

You don’t have to be a client to join — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.




Last week, communities swapped ideas about marketing during COVID-19. For part of the forum, our VP of Sales, Jackie Stone, shared tips and insights on selling, which are shown near the end of this post.

Check out the takeaways from last week’s roundtable below. You are also welcome to attend our next sales and marketing roundtable, coming this week.

Jackie Stone shares some tips for nurturing leads:

  • Continue to reach out.
    • Statistic: In 2018, people who moved into Life Plan Communities had an average of 6.4 face-to-face meetings, 2.4 tours and 16.5 callouts from communities. Altogether, there were around 35 touches for a Life Plan Community move-in. If we put marketing efforts on hold for COVID-19, we are going to make a mistake. We need to reach out in unique ways and put our community top of mind for when they make a decision.
  • Have COVID-19 conversations. Ask questions like:
    • What’s the first thing you want to do when this is behind us?
      • Sales counselors have been asking, “How do you spend your day?” so they can follow up in a way that’s meaningful to the prospect. If they are documentary or comedy watchers, send them links for something in that genre that’s on Netflix.
    • What do you miss?
      • If a prospect says, “I miss a certain meal from a restaurant, the sales counselor can say, “I love Fiorella, too. Maybe we can meet for lunch there once this is over.” In the meantime, you can send them a meal from there: a dish they mentioned that they liked.
    • Is there anything I can do (or get) for you?
      • One community connected with someone who needed to have things picked up from a pharmacy and someone who had just come back from rehab and needed groceries. It’s all about the relationship at this time and getting to know people.
  • Be prepared for questions you may hear from people:
    • How many cases of coronavirus and/or deaths have you had in the community?
      • This information is a matter of public record, so we can’t say, “We can’t give you this information.” It’s best to give the data if you have it and be honest and forthright, then follow up with what you are doing to keep your residents safe and engaged.
    • What are you doing to take care of residents?
      • Share with people: Infection control is what we do, day in and day out. We don’t have to create these procedures — they are already in place. Rest assured that we’re doing everything we can do to keep our residents safe.
  • Be prepared for objections you may hear:
    • We want to cancel our reservation and get a refund of our deposit.
      • If a person wants to back out of an apartment, you might say, “I’m glad you are safe. Let’s just concentrate on that for now. I’m going to follow up with you in a couple of weeks, and we can continue the conversation at that time. Be prepared, address the elephant that’s in the room, calm people’s fears and say, “Let’s wait on that and talk about it again in a couple of weeks.”
    • We’ve decided to stay in our house.
      • If someone says, “We want to stay where we are,” you can say, “Oh? Why is that?” and then “Tell me why you decided on moving to our community in the first place.” If they say, “We wanted to plan our future and not rely on our kids,” ask them, “What has changed about that?” If they say it’s because of COVID-19, explain why you are still the best solution — that hasn’t changed.
    • I don’t want to live around all old people who are more vulnerable to this and other illnesses.
      • One participant said, “We remind people that we are all vulnerable; we can’t see all of our aches and pains and illnesses.” Being in a community is always better because there are so many things that we can provide for you here.

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on May 14!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session, Thursday, May 14, at noon ET.

This week, Cory Lorenz, media director at Varsity, will join our general discussion for part of the session to share his perspective on digital marketing.

You don’t have to be a client to join the session — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.



Once again, communities came together virtually to exchange ideas about marketing in extraordinary times. This forum placed a special emphasis on public relations and crisis communications. Our PR director, Kim Lehman, shared tips and trends, which are shown near the end of this post. For more of Kim’s insights, read her blog posts on crisis planning myths and chaos-proof crisis planning.

Check out the takeaways from this week’s roundtable below. You are also welcome to attend our next sales & marketing roundtable, coming this week. Details are at the end of the post.

PR/Crisis Communications Trends and Tips

We are working closely with LeadingAge’s national office on PR opportunities with various national publications and news outlets.

Editorial trends we’re seeing:

  • Positive news, creative ways of keeping residents engaged and healthy
  • Employees recovering from COVID-19 and coming back to work
  • Testing — Can you get testing? Are you testing everyone? Etc.

Every community should have:

  • A designated, media-trained spokesperson
  • Talking points
    • How you are responding to COVID-19
    • Prevention measures
    • Number of cases
    • How you are keeping residents engaged and loved ones informed
    • Protocols for team members

Media-training tips:

  • Practice your bridging technique.
    • Example: Answer the question, (“Yes, we have cases of COVID right now.”), but bridge it to turn the conversation positive (“This is what we’re doing to keep residents safe and engaged…”).
  • Every media interview is an opportunity, but you don’t have to do every interview if it’s not something you can respond to.
  • Editorials/opinion pieces can be written and submitted to publications. Most papers have guidelines, and you can follow up with a call to the editor after submitting the piece.
  • We really can’t overcommunicate during this time. Examples:
    • A community shared stats with prospects and how it is addressing COVID-19.
    • A CEO placed a large ad in response to a negative article on senior housing.

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on May 7! 

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session, Thursday, May 7, at noon ET.

This week, Jackie Stone, VP of sales consulting at Varsity, will join our general marketing discussion for part of the session to share her perspective on sales and outreach.

You don’t have to be a client to join the session — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.



As COVID-19 continues to change life at communities, we held a virtual roundtable to share thoughts on keeping residents engaged while physically distanced. Check out the recap below.

Join the next roundtable on April 30!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session, Thursday, April 30, at noon ET: A special PR/crisis communications session featuring Kim Lehman from the Varsity PR team.

You don’t have to be a client to join the session — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

Last Thursday, we held our fourth virtual sales & marketing roundtable. Communities have been finding it helpful to hear how others are coping with the coronavirus crisis.

We’re gathering for our next conversation next week, and all are invited to attend.

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on April 23!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session on Thursday, April 23, at noon ET.

You don’t have to be a client to join the conversation — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

We know that every community and business in the aging services space is trying to stay ahead of safety and communications for the COVID-19 virus while juggling the needs of residents and staying connected with prospects. This led us to think about some free and easy tips that can keep current and future residents engaged and upbeat as much as possible while their movement is restricted.

Here are some ideas we’ve collected that we wanted to share with you. We realize that there are many more out there, but we thought this would be a good place to start.

Keeping Residents Engaged

Educational opportunities/lifelong learning/cultural stimulation

Spiritual grounding



  • Use in-house channels to share “coffee chats” with residents.
  • Ask residents to send pics of what they enjoy doing in their homes to share with others in the community.
  • Encourage residents to FaceTime with each other and with their families. (Send an email to all family members encouraging them to FaceTime with their loved ones regularly.)
  • Caution against reading social media or listening to “hype” on TV or the radio, and encourage residents to reach out to the appropriate person if they’re at a low point.

Maintaining relationships with prospects

It’s important to always look for opportunities to follow up with prospects in meaningful ways, and the coronavirus pandemic is one of those (unfortunate) opportunities. Call your prospects to check on them during this health crisis, and ask if they are doing okay. Do they have food in the house? Is there anything they need? If they are local, drop off soup, muffins, toilet paper or other necessities on their doorstep. Recommend Netflix movies, documentaries, comedy shows or online live theater performances that might appeal to them. Give them ideas on how to stay safe, entertained, occupied and healthy. They will be grateful that you thought of them during this extremely stressful time.

In addition, we recommend virtual marketing events, where you can share details, floor plan walk-throughs, advice and just somebody new to talk with.

Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social detachment. During these troubling times, we all have to find new ways to stay connected.


The facts are clear: More Baby Boomers are working past what has been traditionally thought of as retirement age. In fact, a recent Pew Research Center study found that Baby Boomers are staying in the labor force at the highest annual rate for people their age in more than half a century.

Why Residents Still Work

We’re also hearing from communities that more residents are still working. That could mean full-time, part-time, freelance, consulting or owning a business. Financial reasons for continuing to stay in the workforce include not wanting to draw on social security and needing to help grown children financially. Some other reasons I’ve heard are nonfinancial. Residents are saying that working does some important things for them, like:

  • Keeps me connected socially to a group of people I have come to appreciate being with
  • Allows me an opportunity to keep my mind focused on something other than “retirement” and “getting old”
  • Stimulates my mind, helps me remain relevant and gives me a sense of purpose
  • Has always been such a significant part of my life — I can’t give it up yet

How Senior Communities Can Attract Them

So, how can senior living communities appeal to residents who are still working? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Evening fitness classes — Whether residents are working from home or going to an office, they may be busy during the day. Traditional classes at 10 or 11 in the morning just won’t work for them. The same goes for gym hours. This innovative wellness program  features a 24-hour gym and flexible class times.
  2. Smart home office design — When a couple I know moved into a retirement community, their apartment came with a small third bedroom. They redid it into an office, adding built-ins to make room for desks and storage, and made much smarter use of the space. Well-designed, highly functional office space that doesn’t need any remodeling to be effective could be a major draw.
  3. Highspeed internet — Wireless internet is the #1 desired amenity in senior living. It is even more important if a resident is working from home.
  4. Co-working spaces — Residents who work at home would appreciate a dedicated co-working space where they could interact with other working residents. Click here to see one example of an amazing co-working space for seniors.
  5. Work-related seminars and groups — Workshops and lectures on topics such as how to start a business or develop an online presence would be attractive to working residents and would help them build a network with their peers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force participation rate for the older segment of the population will continue to climb. Why not prepare your community by designing features that appeal to this rapidly growing demographic?



‘Like it’ or not, we’ll never know, thanks to a new update being rolled out by Instagram that will prevent you from seeing how many likes the accounts you follow are receiving on their accounts. To see what this means for your brand, check out this infographic.

Now that he’s three-quarters of the way through the LeadingAge PA Fellows in Leadership Program, CFO Brian Mailliard shared insights into his leadership journey.

Thank you for spending some time with us at the conclusion of your third session of Fellows in Leadership.
“The third session!” It’s kind of strange to even say that out loud, because the time is just flying by. This month, we visited Cumberland Woods Village. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center owns and operates this independent living community. One standout feature is the 250-seat theater. The community puts on shows, plays and other events in this beautiful venue.

What was the theme of Session 3?
Session 3 focused on two topics that just about all of us deal with on a daily basis. The first topic was Cultural Competency. Marsha Wesley Coleman, Director of Learning and Development at Friends Services Alliance, led that seminar. The second was Team Member Engagement, led by Gary Johnson, a consultant at Monarch Risk Management.

What insights did you take away from Session 3?
Well, the session featured many great takeaways. Here are a few that stood out:

1. Be aware of biases. The Cultural Competency workshop really got me thinking about biases and assumptions. Because these biases are engrained in all of us from a young age, we need to be cognizant of them when we are back in our organizations. Marsha Wesley Coleman showed us an eye-opening TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, entitled  “The Dangers of a Single Story.” This inspiring talk highlights the hazards of looking at a people or culture from a limited pointed of view. Anyone who hasn’t seen it should watch it.

2. Create an environment that engages team members. Studies show that 70% of  team members feel disengaged at work. That’s why Gary’s session focused on three things we can do to create more engaging workplace environments. First of all, take a collaborative approach to problem solving. Secondly, create equality between managers and employees. Lastly, personalize the work experience through individual recognition.

3. Don’t try to change employees. Something that really stuck with me? The principle Gary taught of not trying to change peoples’ behavior. Rather, he encouraged us to change their situation instead. That change will then influence their behavior.

4. Notice your own actions. The program is teaching me to always be aware of how my actions, assumptions and attitudes influence those around me.

5. Always keep working on engagement. You can never stop working on team member engagement. If you’re not working on it all the time, you’re falling behind.

Anything else you’d like to share about your leadership journey?
One last thing I’d like to add: the class has really come together as a group. Because people feel close, they do not hesitate to share even on tough subjects. And the coaches and trainers really foster that closeness. I’m feeling very inspired by the other fellows.  In fact, McKnights’ Senior Living recognized one of my fellow participants, Jennifer Cisneros, as a Woman of Distinction for 2019. Read an interview with Jennifer here.


Even after three days in the steamy summer heat, my excitement about everything I learned at the LeadingAge Tennessee 2019 Annual Meeting & EXPO is just beginning to heat up. The theme was: “What if we helped people find passion and purpose?” The individuals I connected with at the show are doing that in amazing ways. They’re bringing generations together, leveraging strategies from other industries and approaching their challenges with a fresh perspective.

Without further ado, I’m excited to report back to you my top five “what-ifs” at the show:

1. What if we could integrate former foster youth into senior living communities?

While I was walking the floor, I spoke with Rosemary Ramsey, founder of The Victory Lap, an organization committed to matching youth, 18 to 21, who have aged out of the foster program, with open apartments at senior living communities. The community would be paid $900 per month (funded by the foster program in Tennessee) and would be asked to provide a job for the individual (at least 10 hours per week). The program is intended to give former foster kids a boost — with stable housing, employment opportunities and support from caring older adults — while meeting workforce challenges, filling otherwise vacant units and fostering intergenerational friendships. Look for an interview with Rosemary in a future blog post!

2. What if we could bring the principles of doula care to hospice?

A session on creating a doula program for hospice created some serious conference buzz. The program follows the principles of birthing doulas to help guide the individual and family/loved ones through the dying process.

3. What if we could find and retain top talent?

One of my favorite sessions, led by Matt Thornhill, stressed the need for transparency and inclusion when hiring. It was all about finding and retaining top talent. One example Matt referenced was the innovative 30/40 program by LifeSpire of Virginia in which certified nursing assistants are paid for 40 hours but are only required to work 30.

4. What if new residents could feel at home more easily?

I heard several people talking about a unique continuum concierge program discussed by Melissa Ward, vice president of clinical & regulatory affairs at Functional Pathways. The program promotes successful transitions and helps people stay in their current levels of care. Its tools include new resident orientations, resident-driven support groups, physician services, collaboration across the care continuum and more. Stay tuned for a future blog post about this innovative program.

5. What if we looked beyond a prospect’s age and income?

Last but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our session with co-presenter Robbie Voloshin of United Methodist Communities (UMC). Robbie celebrated her birthday that day! The talk covered an in-depth research study on which we had partnered with UMC. In short, the study shows how going beyond superficial demographics to interests and values can help organizations connect more deeply with the right prospects. Discussion centered around the core aspects of the study — the values statements and how they were ranked.

Have you had any what-if moments of your own? If so, drop me an email at DDunham@VarsityBranding.com. I’d love to hear about them.

I’ve traveled all over the country to attend senior living conferences. Last week, I had one of my  favorite event experiences. It was just three minutes from my home in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

At most conferences, the locations change, but the same pain points keep coming up. Issues include staffing headaches, leadership transitions and ever-changing regulations. However, at the recent 2019 LeadingAge PA Annual Conference & EXPO, themed “Own Your Future,” speakers raised some new and different questions. These questions could dramatically impact the future of aging services. In case you weren’t able to attend, I wanted to share them with you.

  1. Are smart speakers in communities breaking the law?

That’s one question you may not be able to ask Siri or Alexa. Even so, every community should be seriously considering it. As more and more providers (and more and more residents) plug in to voice assistant technology, the more potential legal and regulatory conflicts they face. For instance, allowing a resident to be audio-recorded without consent (which smart speakers do) violates both HIPAA and state wiretapping acts. Is smart technology always such a smart idea? In this fascinating presentation, Larry Zook and Cynthia Haines made the case for putting strong policies in place to deal with this new technology. 

  1. Why do for-profit developments move so much faster than nonprofits?

For-profit senior communities can be built in 12–18 months, while nonprofits often take 3–5 years. What accounts for the faster speed to market? In a peek inside the for-profit world, Maura Richards of Wohlsen Construction and Jamie Spencer of SilverBloom Consulting broke down the reasons.  They included vetting based on market feasibility, no need for pre-sales, a focus on rentals and availability of equity. Can nonprofits find ways to speed up their own development process?

  1. How can we extend housing solutions to the middle market?

As a field, we have options for people with significant resources. We also have housing  for people with extremely limited resources. But those in the middle? They’re often left without good choices. Research specialist Sara Marcq, banking professional Lynn Daly and architect Craig Kimmel discussed new models coming to market — including some for-profit rentals — to fill these unmet needs.

No, I didn’t take three flights to attend LeadingAge PA or visit an exotic locale. After the show, I got in my car, made two lefts and a right and arrived in my own driveway. This shows that a conference really isn’t about a place but about people. It’s people coming together to share their knowledge, in the hopes of improving life for older adults.




Today, nearly six million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. By the year 2050, that number is expected to double. Beyond that statistic are several million more people who have been assigned another kind of dementia diagnosis. The reality is that nearly every American, at some point in his or her life, is going to have a friend or family member afflicted by a chronic neurodegenerative disease. As a society, we have struggled to understand and cope with these diagnoses. Symptoms often start small, building to a critical level that alienates people from their loved ones through a mental fugue from which they cannot escape.

Most Americans gain their initial understanding of these illnesses through popular culture. As early as 1949, the character Willy Loman displays signs of dementia in the play “Death of a Salesman.” By the 1980s, several films used dementia symptoms as key plot points, as writers and directors explored the family dynamics and challenges that occur as dementia progresses. Since the year 2000, we’ve seen an explosion of documentaries, movies, books and other works that have chronicled the onset of dementia symptoms — both from a first-person account and through the eyes of loved ones. Today, one of Broadway’s most popular shows is “The Waverly Gallery,” a wrenching production that follows Gladys Green as her mind slowly fades while her body continues to struggle on.

In that trying moment, when a family is first faced with a dementia diagnosis, these portrayals are often the first thing that comes to mind. Loved ones conjure up the worst moments of the illness as portrayed in the cultural zeitgeist, leading them to believe that only desperation and sadness lie on the path ahead — except, that’s not really the case.

Generally, Alzheimer’s is first recognized because an individual is experiencing some kind of cognitive impairment that impacts his or her daily life. This means that the disease has already been present for a period of time before being discovered by medical professionals. Following a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, the average person can expect to live an additional three to 10 years. Herein lies the disconnect between popular culture and reality.

Families and friends often have a hard time understanding a diagnosis of dementia because the person may just seem forgetful as he or she ages. The portrayals of the disease in media usually play up the most uncomfortable and sad moments that come with the end of the disease, but a person might be able to live a relatively normal and happy life for several years before true debilitation occurs. This is why it’s so important that dementia be realistically portrayed to audiences.

At Varsity, we often don’t interact directly with individuals who have a dementia diagnosis, but the majority of the team has spent time in communities and with family members who have dementia. As an organization, we recognize the important of portraying the life cycle of a dementia diagnosis in a realistic and relatable way, especially through the marketing and advertising work that we do.

Sometimes, the “fresh perspective” isn’t the one that causes the greatest stir. From our experience, today’s freshest perspective about memory support and dementia is a realistic one that focuses on the life yet to be lived, not the eventual challenges down the road.





During 2018, we have undertaken an ongoing blog series in which we take a look at the opportunities and challenges faced by the diverse groups of Boomers and seniors being served by today’s aging services providers.

For our first article in the series, we examined a rapidly growing population in the United States — Latino Boomers and seniors. In our second article, we looked at the changes that LGBT seniors are driving in the marketplace. For our third piece, we talked about America’s largest-growing ethnic demographic: Asians.

Now, for our final article in this series, Wayne Langley is considering the challenges faced by African-American seniors in today’s society.

Over the last decade, the African-American population in the United States has celebrated some amazing strides, while also being forced to come to grips with incredible lows. From the high of electing an African-American president, to facing racial violence in American cities, to challenging relationships with the police force, African-Americans are still struggling for equality in many ways. Unfortunately, one of the areas of continued inequality is income while aging.

In January of this year, Bloomberg published a report about the retirement crisis facing African-Americans. Its analysis showed that the average Caucasian family has more than $130,000 in liquid retirement savings, such as cash, retirement savings accounts and IRAs. Startlingly, the average African-American family has less than one-sixth of that amount saved (or about $19,000) — and this isn’t a new trend. The racial wealth gap has been growing since at least the 1960s and isn’t showing any signs of slowing. As retirement living options become increasingly more expensive — and more luxury-focused — the ability of African-Americans to move into such residences is slimming.

Ashton Verdery and Rachel Margolis studied some of the risk factors facing African-Americans in retirement. They published their findings in October 2017, and the outlook was grim. Their report notes that African-Americans have a much higher instance of life-altering illnesses, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer. Obviously, this leads to the need for increased acute care as this population ages. Within the African-American community, it can be a cultural expectation that family members will step up to the plate and help take care of aging relatives; however, there is an increasing trend in older African-Americans aging without any relatives to provide this support, especially in light of the trend of “grey divorce,” which has steeper rates of occurrence in the African-American demographic.

Verdery’s report specifically touches on the implications for long-term care based on the findings. “Having family members come in and check, or someone double-checking what doctors are doing, is a beneficial thing,” says Verdery. “We may need to have more programs that check on people, particularly those without family.” As aging services marketers and providers, we know the importance of an involved family; not only do they help loved ones make good decisions, but they also act as watchdogs to ensure that proper care standards are being maintained. Without a family member or advocate network, aging African-Americans could be at greater risk for neglect.

Another point relating to aging African-Americans and retirement living is the rate of homeownership. The Washington Post reported that the rates of African-Americans who own their own home are at the lowest in recent memory. In fact, in 2015, the rate of African-American homeownership was the same as it was nearly 50 years earlier! In our space, it is common knowledge that most potential residents will need to leverage the sale of their home to be able to afford to make the move to a Life Plan Community. If one doesn’t own a home, a Life Plan Community could be terribly far out of reach.

Aging services providers who value diversity and inclusion may need to rethink some of their financial models if they want to appeal to and include a larger African-American population in their communities. Certainly, this is going to be a vibrant market in the coming years, and the provider that figures out how to best serve it could stand to reap major rewards. Yet our fear is that unscrupulous organizations, aiming to make a quick dollar, will look to provide seemingly affordable solutions that fail to cover the minimum standards. This, in turn, could lead to African-American seniors being placed into an especially precarious position as they age.






We were pleased to sponsor a basecamp at this year’s LeadingAge PEAK Conference. While much of our team was front and center, sharing knowledge and experience, I took the opportunity to attend other presentations and listen to what our colleagues in the aging services space were saying. After reflecting on the event, I boiled my experience down to three takeaways that really provided insight for me.

Design Trends

My favorite presentation from the event had to be “7 Hot Design Trends” from Gregory Scott of RLPS Architects. Greg is well-known in our space, and I really respect his insight. He covered a plethora of information in his 20 minutes on stage. From the desire for more urban-style living to hybrid homes and how to make the most of apartment repositions, it was a wealth of great tips and tricks. Certainly, I’ll always remember this — “When remodeling an apartment, don’t mess with the plumbing. Leave it where it is and build around it.” That’s some great advice!

Expanding Services and Communities

Across the country, we are seeing a trend of growth among providers. However, the form this growth takes can be very different from organization to organization. We heard from Bob Dahl of Elim Care regarding the community’s expansion to new parts of the country, spurred on by grassroots support, which, in turn, caused a realignment in strategic thinking for Elim.

On the other end of the spectrum, we heard from the Abramson Center for Jewish Life, which has found new ways to provide services to the wider community while not drastically expanding its campus size. By offering more home-based services, Abramson has seen rapid growth over the last 10 years, going from serving 400 people to more than 4,000 within a decade.

Both of these models have merit, and we’ll be interested to see how other organizations put these lessons into practice.

The Growth and Impact of Memory Support

Our team thoroughly enjoyed the Great Minds Gala, held on Tuesday evening. LeadingAge honored award-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden and renowned chef Madison Cowan with the Proxmire Award for their advocacy and activism for people impacted by memory diseases. The growth of the memory support sector within aging services is phenomenal, and at Varsity, we are working on some creative ways to bring awareness to the value memory support can provide, including a better quality of life for the individuals and their families.

We thank LeadingAge for a great conference and hope that everyone who stopped by our basecamp learned something valuable from our team!

Over the holidays, the Varsity team was saddened to learn of the passing of our colleague, Sal J. Molite Jr.

Sal had served as the president of Edenwald Communities in Towson, Maryland, since 1988. His passion and dedication for the aging services industry was well known, and he was respected as a leader, serving as a mentor to many. He served as the chairman of MANPHA and was honored with the prestigious Chairman’s Award.

Edenwald was as much a part of Sal as he was a part of the community. His desire to keep the campus modern and fresh has been an important part of the organization’s success. Sal treated his team members like family and always reminded them of the importance of the mission. His favorite question was, “Why are we here?”

A family man, Sal was a devoted husband to Diane and dedicated father to Chris Nick. His proudest accomplishment was becoming a grandfather to Grace, Zachary, Dominic and Rocco.

We at Varsity extend our deepest condolences to Sal’s family and the Edenwald organization. He was a true friend and colleague that always made us strive to do better.

Requiescat in pace

“Did you notice that she didn’t come to lunch yesterday?”

“Have you heard who he’s sleeping with?”

“Oh, she’s a mess. She doesn’t comb her hair, and she always smells funny.”

Where do you think these quotes originate? Perhaps in a middle school cafeteria during lunch, or after a high school sports practice? Scarily enough, they could be happening right now, at any aging services community in the world. Bullying like this isn’t just a problem that afflicts young people. Increasingly, Boomers and seniors are becoming the victims of bullying by their peers.

A study released by Dr. Robin Bonifas of Arizona State University cites that 10 to 20 percent of residents of senior living communities have experienced some form of bullying. Take a moment to think about that number. This means that, between one in 10 to one in five residents have been bullied!

We can already hear you saying, “That doesn’t happen at my community! All of our residents are nice, lovely people who would never do that.” While we have every confidence that your community is a wonderful place to live, we also have to recognize that, when large groups of people live together in close surroundings, they are naturally going to come into conflict. For some, the way of handling these conflicts is to engage in negative behaviors that they may not even realize they are displaying.

While physical bullying is more common among younger groups, social and emotional bullying is the forte of older adults. Examples of bullying that fall into these categories are exclusion from social activities, the spreading of rumors and gossip, and negative personal speech. These behaviors can be further amplified by physical conditions, such as dementia and mental health issues. Where once someone was a loving and caring person, he or she might become negative and hurtful with the onset of dementia or after suffering from pain for a long period of time.

So, what can you do as an aging services professional to ensure that bullying doesn’t occur at your community? First, keep an open mind to the fact that it may be happening. Be mindful of residents’ behavior toward one other, and listen to what residents are saying about each other. Be certain to not agree with a resident’s negative actions or statements; rather, remind him or her that his or her behavior could be hurtful, and try to help the resident empathize with how the other person might feel.

A great resource for more information on this trend — and for ways to cope with bullying behavior — can be found at SeniorHomes.com, here: https://www.seniorhomes.com/p/bullying-in-senior-living-communities/

Whether we want to believe it or not, bullying is happening in our communities, and we must be cognizant of the impact that it has on resident life quality. Paying attention to the warning signs now can help to avoid bigger conflicts in the future.

Recently, Derek Dunham, vice president of client services, discussed the 90% census plateau that many communities face. This week, Jackie Stone, vice president of sales consulting, provides some strategies for filling that remaining 10%.

Those of us involved with communities know that there’s an issue when occupancy dips below a certain number. But when we’re at 90 percent occupancy, it’s easy to think everything’s fine. However, we cannot be complacent — we must always strive for full occupancy and keep building a quality waiting list. As the community ages, so do its residents, and attrition increases. And there are some units that tend to stay empty for a range of reasons. For instance, filling smaller apartments has become a challenge. Prospects want more living and storage space and will stay where they are rather than agreeing to a one-bedroom apartment.

Here are some ideas for selling that remaining 10 percent — the ones that fill up last due to size, location or other perceived weaknesses.

1. Brainstorm positive features

Naturally, as salespeople, we sell the best first and may not be as excited about the remaining inventory. When we repeatedly hear from prospects that an apartment or cottage doesn’t have a nice view or is too far from the action, we may begin to believe it ourselves. If you believe a particular residence is undesirable, you won’t be able to sell it. Take your team into that residence and brainstorm all the positive features of the style, layout, location, view, etc. Practicing verbalizing those positive aspects will prepare you to communicate them better when sharing with prospects. (I actually had a situation like this in a community in central Massachusetts. One apartment was referred to as a “dog” and was never going to be sold. Our team went through this brainstorming exercise, and on my drive back home to Connecticut, the marketing director called and said they had sold that apartment that same day.)

2. Explore big ideas about small apartments

  • Is it financially feasible to combine two adjacent one-bedroom apartments to create a larger two-bedroom apartment? (If so, do this sparingly, as we always need an inventory of one-bedrooms for their price point and for current residents who decide to downsize.)
  • If you can’t create a larger apartment, make a smaller one seem larger. Can your galley kitchen be reconfigured to create an open concept? If so, use the same flooring from the threshold to the exterior wall, preferably wood or laminate, with the lines going lengthwise to make the rooms appear longer. Eliminate soffits, and bring kitchen cupboards up to the ceiling to make the ceiling appear higher.
  • Purchase a mailing list of single households that would feel very comfortable in a one-bedroom apartment, and focus your efforts on this niche.
  • Host events, such as “Small Living, Big Life,” and feature the breadth of your cultural arts programming. Have current residents share how they live a big life at your community.

3. Be creative with policies

If you have strict policies, loosening them could help fill more units:

  • Rent apartments to snowbirds. When they no longer migrate seasonally, they could become permanent residents.
  • Does your community allow pets? Or is there a current policy dictating that pets need to be under 25 pounds and live on the first floor only? A 10-year-old golden retriever will sleep all day and not bother anyone. People will not get rid of their furry companion to live at your community! Forget about the one-bedroom with den, and market a one-bedroom with dog!

4. Get back to the basics

We can all fall into a routine and give the same canned presentation to everyone we meet, with little results. Dust off the sales training manuals, and follow their advice:

  • Improve your discovery skills so that you are getting to what the prospect truly values in life.
  • Present your community in a way that connects with those personal values.
  • Practice solving commonly heard objections.
  • Always ask for a commitment, whether it be a decision on the apartment, lunch next Thursday or a call in two weeks. Get the prospect to say, “Yes”!

We hope that these strategies help you fill that last 10 percent! If you have questions about your community’s specific occupancy challenges, I’d be happy to help. Please contact me at jstone@varsitybranding.com.

The 2017 Power of Purpose session is in the books, and the member organizations of LeadingAge Tennessee experienced a great conference. The speakers all delivered interesting and informative messages that helped to educate and inspire. I was able to take in several sessions during the event and wanted to share with you the three items that really struck as important takeaways for all attendees.

The unimportance of an office

I thoroughly enjoyed Duane Cummings, the keynote speaker who opened the conference. His message on leadership and putting people in the right place for them to succeed is something I truly aspire to. But one point really resonated with me: Duane doesn’t have an office at his organization. Rather, he ensures that all his key employees have their space, and he meets them there. It reminds him to be a servant leader and takes the fear out of a chat with the CEO.

While retirement communities are often dealing with sensitive information, and therefore need private office spaces, I believe his point is still salient. It speaks to the need for executive directors and C-suite personnel to get out of their offices and walk the communities they serve. It’s far too easy for us to get stuck in our daily routines and never leave our offices, processing that precious paperwork that never seems to end. Getting out for that daily walk not only makes you more present, but can serve as a morale booster to both residents and employees.

Reposition with a purpose

Tye Campbell of SCFS presented an excellent session on some of the repositioning and construction work that his firm has done in the last decade. Every one of those communities had something in common; they all worked hard to incorporate green design and local flavor into their updates and upgrades. This trend isn’t new in the aging services space, but Tye’s presentation reinforced just how important these considerations are as organizations contemplate their next move.

SCFS has also experienced a dramatic rise in the desire for common spaces in senior living. Tye noted that, in several instances, the pools, bistros and other dining areas that SCFS has built are so popular with residents that they seem too small on the very day they open. Those looking to expand should listen up on this point — don’t go small just because of budgets. Think about how much use the space will get, as it’s better to built a slightly larger space now than to try to retrofit or expand a space later.

Plants, leaves and the color green

While this might be a bit self-serving, Seth Anthony, our communications manager at Varsity, made an interesting point during our session on branding that I hadn’t previously considered. It also happened to get the most laughter and nods of agreement of any part of the presentation, so I had to include it in this list.

We, at Varsity, value our ability to bring a fresh perspective to our clients during our brand odyssey. Seth aptly pointed out one area in which aging services organizations aren’t doing a good job at being fresh — their logos! Try this exercise, and you’ll see what I mean! Go to http://images.google.com and search for “senior living logos.” You’ll notice that a large portion of logos include one of three elements: plants and trees, leaves and the color green. As organizations work hard to differentiate themselves in an ever-more-competitive market, having a logo that looks and feels much like your competitors can make it hard to truly stand out. I know I’ll be taking a more critical look at aging services logos in the future!

I’d like to extend my thanks to LeadingAge Tennessee for another great event in Nashville. Its hospitality is always spot-on, and you certainly can’t beat an evening out

One of my favorite sayings is, “Design for older eyes shouldn’t be old design.” I find this phrase to be especially pertinent when tackling website projects. Whether it be building a new site from the ground up or refreshing an existing site, my top priority is to ensure that design complements and enhances the user experience. All too often, designers are looking to incorporate new innovations (some would say “gimmicks”) into their websites, all the while forgetting about how the end user will interact with them. While the latest plugin may allow you to add extra or flashier animation, it also runs the risk of confusing the user. Through our focus groups and user testing, we’ve seen this again and again, and it’s a problem that older users are especially prone to.

Avoiding these issues starts before the visual design process is even considered. The architecture and user flow should be the first considerations one thinks of before things like colors and themes are discussed. Understanding how potential users navigate your site will impact the rest of the design. Put yourself in the shoes of a 65-year-old that is exploring life at retirement communities — what is he or she most interested in, and how can you draw him or her into your sales funnel? Having a clearly defined “road map” that leads the user to the exact information he or she wants, along with a prompt to provide an email and phone number, is the foundation of a quality website that helps generate leads for sales staff.

Just as when you’re driving on a highway, you’re going to need some signage to help direct your website traffic along. This takes the form of the navigation on your website and how it’s displayed. The goal is to get the user to the desired information as quickly as you can, before he or she loses interest in the product that you’re offering. A good rule of thumb is that key information should be no more than two clicks away from the landing page, with only one click being optimal. If someone lands on your site looking for memory care, he or she shouldn’t have to click through information on nursing or assisted living. Creativity in menu design and user flow can make the difference between a site generating lots of leads and one that leaves potential residents lost on the internet.

Now that we’ve put all of this thought into the structure of the site, we can contemplate the look and feel. Often, this process is done in conjunction with a refresh in brand and market positioning, giving us a great opportunity to create a website that feels modern and fresh while still supplying the basic information that users are looking for. At this stage, I like to concentrate on two factors — contrast and readability. Remember: Older eyes can still appreciate modern design, but they have to be able to see it. Using high-contrast colors will make the site easier to read and navigate, producing longer visits, which in turn generates more leads. Readability goes hand in hand with this concept as I look for fonts that are easy to discern and large enough for users to read. Additionally, I may look to add a feature that lets the user make the text on the site even larger or change the contrast. By providing these features, we make our sites more user-friendly, helping to set us apart from the competition.

After all of this has been thought out, the real fun begins, as I can turn my creative mind loose and look for new and inventive ways to convey the community and brand visually. Working with our writers, art directors and account management teams, I look at the entire website holistically, bringing together a website that represents the vision of the client and the needs of the user in one experience. Whether a brand is trying to convey an active lifestyle, security and compassion or a unique living situation, it’s my goal to tie all of the creative assets together so that vision is carried through the photos, text, videos and interactive experience.

Just because the users of the websites I design tend to be older doesn’t mean that I get a pass and can use dated design. Quite the opposite, actually! Every day I’m challenged to create designs that incorporate the latest in digital innovation while ensuring that the user experience remains as seamless as possible. Agencies can easily become blinded by the desire to innovate something totally revolutionary. In my eyes, the most revolutionary designs are those that users may not even recognize, as they are too busy imagining themselves already making a life for themselves at the community the website represents.

As the annual United States tax-filing deadline looms near, many are scrambling to assemble their documents and get their returns filed on time. When a person is young, taxes always seem so simple, but as we age, and as our financial lives grow, taxes get more complicated. Children, mortgages, business expenses ­— they all play a factor in how much each of us pays to the government. Then, children move out, businesses get sold, and mortgages get paid off, leading people to believe that their taxes just got a bit easier. Don’t be fooled! Boomers and seniors can be missing out on some major tax benefits by taking the simple way out and paying less attention to their filings.

According to the Tax Policy Center, filers over the age of 65 are the largest single group to benefit from special provisions of the federal tax code. Some people refer to these provisions as “loopholes,” but they’re not! They are built into the tax code to specifically help aging adults that may not have a large or stable income as they exit the workforce.

Everyone has heard that they should pay a professional to do their taxes because they will get more money back. However, the expense of the professional may cut into those returns severely, especially for low to moderate-income households. For Boomers and seniors, there are government programs that will provide professional tax preparation at little to no cost. One such program, titled VITA, offers free tax help to people who make less than $52,000 and need assistance in preparing their return. Additionally, there is the TCE program that provides free tax help to people over 60. This program specializes in help with retirement investments, such as pensions and 401(k)s. For retirement communities, these programs can be especially helpful to residents and their families. Encourage your residents to take advantage of VITA and TCE, and provide a place for individuals to meet with the volunteers during tax season. Ensuring residents are financially stable is critical to keeping them in your community.

Specialized tax credits are also important for the Boomer and senior population. The Elderly and Disabled Tax Credit is probably the most well-known, but it requires the use of a 1040 form (as opposed to the 1040EZ) to receive it. If the filer, or his or her spouse, is 65 years or older or is under 65 and permanently disabled, he or she could qualify. The only catch is income level, which varies on how someone files. The maximum yearly income allowed is $25,000 for those that are married and file jointly, and both must qualify. While this does limit the number of people who qualify, nonprofit communities that provide mission-based services may have many residents that could take advantage of this program.

Having tax specialists present at lead-generating events and resident gatherings isn’t new. By doing so, the community provides information to potential residents that helps them understand their ability to retire. It also benefits the tax professionals, as they gain clients. It’s an idea that has worked in many instances, but what can you do to freshen it up?

Instead of inviting just one professional, how about asking several — all specializing in different fields — to attend? Having a “finance fair,” with a wide range of experts, could be a great draw. If you’re working with a higher-income bracket of potential residents, have an “investment symposium” that concentrates on issues relating to larger investment accounts. Both of these can be great ways to generate warm leads for your marketing strategy.

Helping your residents and potential residents understand tax issues is in your best interest. It can keep current residents in your community and aid potential residents in understanding how affordable life can be by retiring with you. Connecting these groups to tax preparation resources isn’t just a kind-hearted move; it’s a fiscally responsible one that has real-world benefits for everyone involved.



Potential residents and their families are increasingly turning to the internet to aid in their search for a retirement community. Nearly every community has a website, and most employ lead-generating tactics on them (contact page, downloadable brochures, etc.). But there is always room for improvement. Over a period of three weeks, we’ll provide you with three actionable tips that you can use to improve your digital footprint.

This week, we’re issuing you a challenge to test your SEO.

If you’re doing any kind of digital marketing, you’ve heard the term “SEO” bandied about like a magic bullet; we’re here to tell you that it’s not. Creating quality SEO takes hard work, commitment and deep thought. It’s an art, not a science.

Let’s do an exercise. Open a new tab and go to Google. Now, search to find your community without using its name or the town in which it is located. How long did it take you to find it? How far down on the list was it? This exercise quickly shows that if your search engine optimization strategy is to reinforce your name and the town where your community is, you are missing potential leads.

When creating a website, think holistically about how a person would find each page via a search. If you are optimizing for the phrase “Independent Living Tacony PA,” how many searches do you think you’ll pick up? Tacony isn’t well-known to those outside of the Philadelphia area. Put yourself in the user’s shoes; he or she wants the best search results for the least amount of effort. A better search term to optimize for might be “Independent Living near Philadelphia” or “Southeastern PA Independent Living.”

This sort of deeper thinking is one of the factors that sets a truly great website apart. Critically thinking about the SEO of, not just the homepage, but of every page on the website will help increase leads that convert to sales. By being intensely curious about online consumer behavior, we have been able to identify areas of improvement for our clients’ websites and provide them with a digital strategy that puts them at a distinct advantage in an increasingly online world.

1. Ensure that your marketing messages and images are not furthering the misperception that retirement communities are little more than nursing homes.
2. Implement an event strategy that brings prospects on campus to see for themselves what life could be like,.
3. Ensure your employees are knowledgeable and are delivering your brand each and every day to everyone they encounter including one another.
4. Emphasize your mission and residents who are living a mission-focused lifestyle.
5. Spend sufficient time educating prospects on the many benefits of having care available should they need it

For more insights on drawing prospects to your community, order a free copy of our latest white paper.

From Ikaria, Greece, to Sardinia, Italy, people who live longer follow a wide variety of diets. What’s the one thing their eating habits all have in common? A “plant slant” — fruits and vegetables are at the center of their diets.

Back in the U.S, some communities are already incorporating the nine healthy principles followed in the world’s longevity hotspots, including “plant slant” (#5). Wellmark has found a way to take advantage of this trend through its Blue Zones sponsorship. We can learn from this sponsorship and see how other industries — from produce to wine — can also benefit from the growing trend. 

In our past few posts, we covered the first five principles: (Move Naturally, Know Your Purpose, Downshift, 80% Rule and Plant Slant.) Learn about the other four at bluezones.com.

Just a reminder: Grandparents’ Day is this Sunday, September 13! Here are simple suggestions communities can use to make this Grandparents’ Day the grandest ever.

  1. Bring a smile to a resident’s face, with a “Happy Grandparents’ Day!”
  1. Post pictures of residents with their grandchildren on your community Facebook page.
  1. Encourage your community book club to read a book that highlights the important role of a grandparent.
  1. Feature a special story of a grandparent resident in your community newsletter.
  1. Ask grandparents to share photos of their grandchildren at an afternoon coffee or tea.
  1. Encourage grandparents to display photos of their grandchildren on the doors of their residences.

Find more grand ways to celebrate here.

Studies show that seniors who read stay mentally sharper and have a lower risk of dementia. But the truth about their reading habits is surprising.

According to a Pew Research study, only 70% of seniors have read a book in the last year, compared to 79% of millennials.

If your community library is appealing and well stocked, it could encourage more residents to read on a regular basis.  Below are some affordable suggestions to help make your library more inviting.

  1. Be creative about book donations. Book fairs, garage sales, resident donations, and organizations like Better World Books are all good sources.
  2. Recruit volunteers—especially former librarians. They can lead other volunteers and get your library into shape.
  3. Build community partnerships. Trading donations and cross-promoting literary events with your local library can be mutually beneficial.
  4. Hold a unique fundraising event. One Texas community held a highly successful three-day book festival complete with local authors.
  5. Get inspiration. Check Pinterest and other sites to see the innovative ideas other libraries have used.

It’s not an Olympic-size pool or walk-in-closet. It’s something even more appealing: driverless transportation.

Every retiree dreads giving up the keys. Some people even put off getting a checkup out of fear their doctor will tell them they need to stop driving. Moving to a retirement community can be a partial solution, with a shuttle to shopping and errands.  And now, senior living transportation is about to move forward—with the driverless vehicle.

Although Google and others are working to get the driverless car on the road, strict government regulations are putting up roadblocks. Meanwhile, a startup called Auro is moving more quickly, targeting universities and retirement communities on private property, where laws are less strict.  According to Technology Review, Auro is testing a prototype at a retirement community this year.

How residents benefit from the new technology: They have more mobility, since driverless shuttles will be able to make on-demand pickups, not just at scheduled times and on set routes. How communities benefit: lower cost. According to Auro, a self-driving shuttle could reduce transportation costs by 40 to 60% because there’s no driver salary.

So forget building that new pool. Draw residents in with the perk of the future: a self-driving shuttle. It’s available for pre-order now.


As consultants, we spend much of our time asking questions—and listening to the answers. The insights we gain help inspire solutions that lead to success.

We want to enter into a conversation with you about the performance of your business.

In this day of instant information availability, it surprises us how little we really do share our successes, challenges and frustrations.

Our team has crafted a brief survey based upon multiple conversations with business leaders like you, from a variety of publicly traded, privately held and nonprofit entities. The questions that came out of those conversations will help us learn what works and what doesn’t in today’s challenging economic climate. We are asking you to share how you approach a number of key business activities—planning, leading, executing, etc.

Take the survey now

As in most surveys, we begin the process with a certain set of preconceived notions.  You will either confirm these notions or provide a different perspective on what people are doing to achieve business success. Regardless, we will share the results with you as you direct.

Please take a few moments to help us understand what successful organizations like yours are doing to exceed their target goals, regardless of the type of business or mission you represent.

Thank you immensely for your contribution to helping us define business success.

If you put a preschool inside a retirement community, what would happen?

Something very unexpected: Both the children and the seniors underwent an amazing transformation.

At Providence Mount St. Vincent, a senior living community in the Seattle area, a preschool is actually housed inside the community’s campus. On a daily basis, the children sing, dance, draw and visit with residents. The interactions bring laughter, companionship, learning and understanding to all of their lives. Watch this short video to learn more.

Around 500 communities in the U.S. offer similar programs, and filmmaker Evan Briggs would like to see this model implemented on a larger scale.

Briggs is making a documentary about the preschool to raise publicity about the benefits of intergenerational interactions. This video is a trailer she made to raise funds on Kickstarter to finish her documentary. If you’d like to support her efforts, you can do so here.

Studies have shown that participating in creative activities can help keep our minds sharp as we age. But why stop at woodworking and pottery? Seniors in Lisbon, Portugal, have taken to the streets and are spray painting their graffiti tags across the walls of the city.

A recent study by the Mayo Clinic has found that seniors who engage in artistic activity may have a decreased risk of mild cognitive impairment. And the earlier these creative activities are started, the more they benefit the brain. In fact, the risk of mild cognitive impairment is lowered about 75 percent in people who regularly engage in artistic activities, both in midlife and later in life.

LATA 65, an organization in Lisbon is teaching seniors an unexpected form of art: graffiti. The program was created to introduce graffiti to an older generation of artists and to decorate run-down areas with colorful murals. Sounds a lot more exciting than basket weaving.

Advertising great Bill Bernbach said, “The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.”

If you make a promise about your organization, it should be something that can’t be disputed when people walk through your doors. The promise can be aspirational or even transformational, but you have to live up to what you’re claiming in the marketplace.

For instance, you wouldn’t want to say you sell a safe car if it’s vulnerable in rear-end collisions, like the Ford Pinto was. As Jerry Della Femina said, “There is a great deal of advertising that is much better than the product. When that happens, all that will do is put you out of business faster.”

When we’re looking for insights about an organization, we start on the inside and work our way out. Our clients are the best ones to tell us about their culture. They can share the truths they’ve learned about their organization, from mission, vision and values to current and future services and goals.

Along with being true, your promise also needs to be unique and compelling. I’ll cover those qualities in future posts.

Managing a successful organization has never been easy, but given today’s rapidly evolving changes, the leadership challenge, at least for most of us, is greater than ever.  Pressures from a variety of stakeholder groups compete for our time, attention and resources. More than ever, distractions seem to intercept our good intentions. Results—favorable ones—don’t occur without a plan. Exceptional results happen only when the plan is well executed. Unfortunately, too many of us invest far more time in developing the plan than in managing or executing the plan.

More Than an Exercise

Strategic planning is a discipline that should be logical, practical and manageable. Many of the plans I review these days seemingly lack depth and evoke far too little action. Now that we have adopted the concept of strategic planning, let’s ensure we introduce plans to our teams that produce the desired results.  Planning should become integrated into our patterns of management at all layers of the organization, not simply an exercise for the board and a few select executives.

Missing Components

Two areas of planning I recommend consistently including in your strategic planning process are innovation and culture. Certainly these areas are difficult to articulate, but they are crucial to your success in driving the desired results. Whether you are competing for residents or employees, your ability to establish objectives for enhancing the culture in which your services are delivered creates a competitive advantage. In great work cultures, great ideas can come from any team member in any department. Setting the tone for culture is the foundation to creating a more innovative environment in which people want to contribute.

Monitoring Success

People want to know how their performance stacks up against expectations. Routine reporting on key accomplishments against the plan is often missing beyond the executive suite. Success happens when the entire organization is aware of the strategic plan as well as how they are doing in completing the objectives driven by that plan. Measuring and communicating success is more than simply crafting an email or printing a newsletter. Engaged teams want a personal account from leadership on how well they are achieving the goals for the organization.

Link to Performance

Is your organization performing at its absolute best? Why or why not? Is your strategic plan a living document embraced by your entire organization, or something that occupies space on your shelf only to be discussed at board meetings? Are you winning the “war for talent”—are the brightest people coming to work at your organization?

It is no longer enough to be good at anything—consumer expectations for your brand are high. If your organization is performing at a level that doesn’t create “wowed” customers, your plan needs work, and your executional tactics need attention. The journey of successful strategic planning and organizational performance must get your attention daily.

Once again, Varsity participated in the LeadingAge PEAK Leadership Summit, which was held this March in Washington, D.C. And, once again, key leaders across the field of aging services gathered for lively discussions and to share ideas about the future of our industry.

We wanted to share a few key themes we heard in our conversations:

Shaping tomorrow’s leaders: Pivoting off the national dialogue around Larry Minnix’s retirement, we all need to nurture the next generation of talent.

Embracing a new model for growth and stability: In the midst of reform, providers need to think beyond traditional approaches and the status quo. The ones who succeed will be strategic and innovative in how they navigate the evolving marketplace.

Identifying nontraditional partnerships: In an age where technology is making partnerships more accessible, and the field of aging services is demanding fresh ways of thinking, providers who seek innovative partnerships will uncover new opportunities for sustained success.

Defining an industry through the NameStorm Project: The 35-year-old term, “CCRC,” has placed the emphasis squarely on “care” and “retirement.” Varsity is proud to be a partner in this LeadingAge/Mather LifeWays initiative to explore a fresh moniker for the field of aging services.

Our team would welcome the opportunity to discuss these insights or to simply begin exploring the right questions that will lead to solid strategies for your community’s continued success.

“What’s in a name?” This line from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” has sparked a debate that has lasted for centuries. How important is a name—whether you’re a person, a business or a Continuing Care Retirement Community?

According to a Forbes article, four signs of a great business name are that you can pronounce it, it’s not too long, it’s straightforward, and it’s catchy. “Continuing Care Retirement Community” falls short on at least two of those fronts.

That’s one reason for “CCRC NameStorm.” In this national study, a task force is researching perceptions of the label “Continuing Care Retirement Community” and investigating alternative wording that would describe our communities more accurately—and appealingly. Varsity is on the NameStorm task force, along with LeadingAge, Mather Lifeways, GlynnDevins, SB&A, Brooks Adams Research, and Love & Co.

In the NameStorm study, quantitative and qualitative research is being conducted across the country with CCRC residents, prospects and staff as well as the community at-large.

If you plan on going to LeadingAge PEAK in Washington, D.C., March 16-18, 2015, we encourage you to attend a special session about CCRC NameStorm: “What’s in a Name: a Look at the CCRC Label,” which will provide insights on the current progress of this study.

The term “Continuing Care Retirement Community” was coined quite a few years ago when this type of organization was just taking shape. Now the senior living industry is seeing the next generation of retirees react negatively to an idea of a “care” facility.

I’m sure you have experienced that negative reaction, just as we at Varsity have. Part of the issue is that the CCRC label is focused on only one piece of the story—the care piece. It’s easy for the active Boomer retiree to say, “this isn’t for me.”

As part of CCRC NameStorm, we have conducted focus groups with prospective and current resident groups at Homestead Village, a community in the heart of Lancaster County in central PA. We’re thankful to our very good clients in one of the country’s most densely populated CCRC markets for opening their doors and sharing their honest opinions. So far, we’ve found that people are excited about the possibility of a name change, but it’s a change that needs to be carefully considered. (Remember Radio Shack becoming “The Shack”?)

This will be an ongoing discussion, and it will certainly be an interesting one. We hope you can make it for the session at LeadingAge. If not, check back on the Varsity blog. We’ll be continuing to post the progress of the NameStorm study.

As a seasoned senior living sales professional, have you fallen into the habit of giving a routine “tour” of your community that you could do in your sleep? You know — “Here’s the living room, here’s the dining room, here’s the washer/dryer; the pool is over there” — basically ticking off the features like a real estate agent and maybe throwing in a few benefits here and there. How do you avoid falling into the trap of giving a canned sales pitch that is not very effective in connecting with your prospect and that even bores you?

Persuading someone that moving to your community is the right decision requires a deeper level of communication. He or she may be thinking, “This is the last place I’m going to live.” It’s a very emotional decision, so you need to do more than just provide information. You need to get into that person’s head and learn what he or she values in life, because values guide our judgments, actions and important decisions.

Visual Clues
The process of discovering a prospect’s values can start even before he or she walks in the door of your community. Look out in the parking lot to see what the person is driving. Is the car sturdy and dependable? Is it expensive and possibly a status symbol? Is it sporty and fun? A car can speak volumes about its owner.

Once the prospect walks in, you can continue picking up subtle clues. Observe his or her appearance and dress, listen for words and phrases that reflect his or her values, and watch his or her body language. Take note of whether the person is decisive or indecisive, impulsive or cautious.

Probe to Discover Values
Pose questions that get the person talking, and really listen to the answers. Ask about his or her past or current career, interests and hobbies, family and the decision-making process. I like to ask, “What is a typical day in the life of Jane Doe like?” Or, “If you could do anything you wanted right now, what would it be?” Based on the answer, you may find out that the person is adventurous, intellectually curious, family-oriented, health conscious or a status seeker. And, even more important, are the questions he or she asks you.

Once you’ve gleaned some insights into your prospect’s values, focus on benefits that resonate with him or her, and don’t over-emphasize those that don’t. For instance, don’t go overboard selling the pool, fitness center and personal trainer to someone who doesn’t value health and fitness. He or she might be thinking, “I’m going to pay for something I’ll never use.”

Here are just a few examples of “values” portraits and ways you might connect with each. (Most people are a combination of more than one.)

These are typically women whose career was raising their children and caring for the family home. They feel attached to the home, and leaving it and the memories created there is very emotional for them. They may feel a need to consult their children on the decision. They may also be considering a move to be closer to family.

How to connect: Highlight amenities, such as built-in shelves and wall space for family photos and mementos; a second bedroom for visiting family members to spend the night; and the private dining room for family celebrations. Tell a story that will resonate with their values: “Can you imagine hosting Thanksgiving dinner here in the private dining room, then being able to relax and enjoy coffee and dessert with your family without needing to wash a mound of pots and pans?”

A large subset of the current generation of senior living prospects, they are careful shoppers who value financial security. High entrance fees may give them sticker shock, but if they see value, they will buy.

How to connect: Explain the value of the CCRC model by comparing the costs of home ownership and retirement community living (do this exercise prior to your meeting to ensure that the results are favorable for your community). For communities with a Type A Life Care agreement, share tangible comparisons of costs for skilled care with and without Life Care. Try this: “Do you know what skilled nursing care costs today? Have you ever heard stories of people who spent their life savings in a nursing home? Let me explain how Life Care might prevent that from happening to you.”

This group is attracted to intellectual pursuits, prestige and status. They may be leaders in their own communities, serve on a board of directors, read avidly and travel frequently. They want to maintain their independence and live life on their own terms. They do not have an emotional attachment to their homes—it’s just a place to hang their hats while pursuing their true interests.

How to connect: Mention that your community is “the leader,” “exceptional” or “the best around.” Say things like: “You can just lock the door and go, knowing that your home will be safe while you are away, and nice and clean when you return.” Perhaps see if they have an interest in serving on the resident council.

Next time you have a sales appointment, throw away that canned script, and focus on the person in front of you. Ask probing questions that will uncover his or her life values, so you can present your community in a way that connects with those values.