12 Steps To Ensure Your Association’s Survival. Hint: Focus On Millennials

by Sheryl Jackson // Sep 21, 2016 Engagement

Group of Business People Using Digital Devices

If associations aren’t careful, they’ll follow the same path Eastman Kodak Company’s film business took, warns Shira Harrington, chief engagement officer of Purposeful Hire and an association recruitment expert.

Kodak knew photography was moving to digital formats, even building one of the first digital cameras in 1975, but the company was slow to transform its business which accounted for 90 percent of film sales in the 1990s.

Likewise the value proposition for association membership has changed over the past 10 years as millennials have become a larger part of the workforce – and a larger percentage of the association target audience, points out Harrington. “If associations don’t change their current business models to attract and engage them, they will be defunct in 10 years as existing members retire,” she warns.

Here are 12 strategic steps association leaders can take to recruit, engage, retain and develop younger members, to prepare the association not just for survival, but also for success.

1. Personalize Member Invitations

Younger professionals do not join associations out of a sense of obligation to their profession or industry, says Harrington. “Millennials have options because they are connected to others via digital communication, which gives them a broad, even global network.” Because younger people are peer oriented, have other young professionals invite them to meetings or conferences, and point out the value of membership, she suggests.

2. Address Cost Hurdles

Too many association leaders forget that younger professionals do not have the same amount of discretionary income to spend on associations, according to a young professional engagement report by Association Laboratory. If an association membership is an individual membership versus a corporate membership, offer discounts for professionals with less than five years of experience or below a certain age. Evaluate conference and educational session discounts as well to make these valuable benefits affordable.

3. Offer Tangible Career Development

Millennials think in terms of a “career elevator” rather than a “career ladder,” says Harrington. This means that educational, networking and leadership development programs are attractive to younger members as they work toward their next position.

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4. Develop A Mentoring Program

Millennials welcome and actively seek mentors, so mentorship programs are well-received. The Massachusetts chapter of the Association for Women in Science has a nine-year-old mentoring circle program that includes over 300 women who are matched with each other to set career goals, learn skills and strengthen their networks.

5. Create Micro-Volunteer Opportunities

Younger professionals may not be willing to jump into a long-term, major volunteer position due to time demands in their work and personal lives. Offering specific, time-limited volunteer opportunities as the Association of Academic Physiatrists does, enables them to engage more with the association, which can lead to further development as a leader.

6. Speed Up Leadership Pathways

When developing leaders, remember that young members do not see the need for the traditional pathway to leadership, which usually begins with membership on a committee and moves up to committee chair and officer positions, says Harrington. “Millennials believe leadership is merit-based, not tenure-based, so current Baby Boomer leaders need to look at pathways that allow talented, young professionals to assume leadership roles when they are qualified – regardless of the length of time they’ve been a member, or held other positions.”

7. Implement Mobile-Friendly Communications

Younger people are digitally wired, and expect all of their organizations to offer interactive, real-time information at their fingertips – usually on their smartphone or tablet, says Harrington. Associations with static websites that lack creativity will not be able to attract or retain younger members, she adds.

8. Support Collaboration And Conversation

As active social media users, younger members are tuned into the concept of online forums and communities. Offering online forums devoted to specific audiences or topics of interest gives millennials another way to connect with others, ask or offer advice, and connect with other members. The Global Cold Chain Alliance offers six communities with memberships that range from less than 50 to the largest which numbers over 4,000.

9. Produce Entertaining, On-Demand Education

“Millennials respond to fun,” says Harrington. “Online education that they can access at their convenience through their mobile devices must be entertaining, succinct and packed with up-to-date information. “Conferences should also be fun, with well-designed themes and social activities.”

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10. Play Games

Gamification is one concept association leaders can tap to add an element of fun to education, member engagement, meetings or special events. The Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers offers a wide range of courses designed for different levels of expertise. To help members select the most appropriate courses, the association offers a “Trivia Game” that uses answers to a number of questions that vary in difficulty to direct members to the best courses based on their score in the game.

11. Serve A Larger Mission

A 2013 report on millennials found that 73 percent volunteered for a not-for-profit organization. The reasons included a passion for the charity organization’s goals, a desire to connect with others with similar views, and a desire to give back to their community. Associations can tap into younger members’ social responsibility by linking association events with charitable activities. Each year, the National Black MBA Association, ends its annual conference with a day of service for an organization in the conference’s host city. In 2014, attendees donated money, clothing and consumer goods for families in need in the Atlanta area. In addition to sponsoring a “marketplace” to distribute the items collected, members offered life skill workshops for family members.

12. Avoid Marginalizing “Young” People

We’ve singled them out all the way through this article, but young professionals want to be treated like adults and peers when they join an organization, says Harrington. “They want their voices heard, which means association leaders must listen carefully, ask questions, and show that their opinions are valued. Their parents listened to them as they grew up, and they expect other adults to give them the same respect. This doesn’t mean they expect all of their ideas to be implemented, but they don’t want to be dismissed because of their age.”

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