The whole membership structure is facing a problem. Many people are no longer willing to pay for belonging to an organization unless they can see a tangible benefit. So what’s a member-based organization to do? Well, a great place to start is to attract younger people to your association. And there’s a way to do that that’s pretty unique to the younger generation.
Several studies have shown that one of the key differences in purchase decisions between millennials and baby boomers is word-of-mouth. While baby boomers continue to be influenced by advertising, millennials rely on recommendations from each other, on everything from restaurants and movies, places to live, to what groups to join.
That’s good news for associations with “member get a member” (MGAM) recruitment programs.
However, not all MGAM programs live up to expectations. A study by McKinley Advisors found that 57 percent of associations had tried a MGAM program, but only 17 percent rated their programs a 4 on a scale of 5 and 48 percent rated them a 1 or 2.
The Success Story
A MGAM program that increases new member recruitment from 129 to 1,110 in one year can easily be called a success, but the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) decided that the good results from redesigning and offering incentives through the program could be improved upon even more.
In 2008, the program was renamed and redesigned to focus on recruiting millennials, and encouraging current members to seek certification as an ACHE Fellow.
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“In the first year of our Leader to Leader (L2L) program, we gained 1,872 members and 300 were millennials,” says Cynthia A. Hahn, senior vice president of member services for ACHE. Numbers continued to increase in 2013, with 2,483 members, which included 1,061 millennials.
The L2L program builds on ACHE’s original MGAM program by continuing to award points for any member who recruits a new member, or is responsible for an existing member to seek fellowship. Members can choose from a number of gift items that rotate annually when they redeem their points.
“We are recruiting national members, but the real interactions and benefits to most members, especially early careerists, are at the chapter level,” says Hahn.
ACHE’s national office made a concerted effort to get chapter involvement in the L2L program by incentivizing members to visit student chapters, encouraging them to connect with early careerists, and enabling professors to participate in the program and share rewards with students.
“We have chapters that are doing great things to reach out to millennials,” says Hahn. The Southern California ACHE chapter developed the “Idea Lab” program, which connects early- and mid-careerists and students with experienced leaders in all areas of healthcare. The meetings not only give younger members an opportunity to hear from and talk with industry experts, but they also have the opportunity to expand their professional network with direct interactions with senior executives.
Offering millennials tangible career benefits such as boosting their professional network is one way to attract them to association membership, but ACHE also finds professor recommendations critical in their membership growth. Students trust their professors and professors encourage continuous learning, which ties into professional association membership, explains Hahn. “Professors are very successful at encouraging students to transfer their student membership to a professional membership once they graduate.”
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Into the Future
Although association leaders may be tired of analyzing the impact of a younger generation on professional or trade organizations, ignoring the fact they represent the future of all associations is not an option, says Jodie Slaughter, president and founding partner of McKinley Advisors.
“The millennial generation is bigger than the baby boomer generation, and many people have said that younger people don’t join organizations. I believe they will join if they have a reason to do so.”
Because millennials are connected to friends, family members and peers in distant locations via online tools, the common perception is that they don’t view personal interaction as critical.
“I think this is an incorrect assumption, and I don’t believe opportunities for in-person meetings will go away,” says Slaughter. “In fact, a few years ago on an American Society for Association Executives’ young professional listserv, I saw posts talking about the upcoming annual meeting and enthusiastic conversations about meeting to party in person at the conference.”
“We also know that if we can get early careerists to national conferences and educational meetings, we will be able to retain them, but costs are an issue for younger people,” points out Hahn. To address this issue ACHE offers early careerists discounts on national registration.
Over the next five to 10 years, millennials will make up the leadership of associations, but to attract and engage them, current leadership must begin to change the way they think about recruitment, retention and leadership development. “The current leadership path in most associations begins with committee involvement, moves to chairing a committee, and then serving on a task force before taking on officer or board level position,” points out Slaughter.
Millennials believe that if they are qualified, they should not have to go through all of the steps, she adds. “Current association leaders need to trust that younger members who have demonstrated an ability to lead can move up quickly. This will be essential to preserve the association’s existence.”
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