If you’re in the membership department or C-suite of an association, you may have wondered more than once in the last few years why your members are skewing older, or why you’re having trouble attracting millennials to your organization. You’re not alone.

From looking at the literature, you’d probably think millennials are the most disruptive generation yet — that we are climate change on legs. While that may be true, it is also true that millennials will be the future of our industries and our associations. As such, they need to become your members, or your association will go the way of the dinosaurs.

I’ll share a millennial’s point of view on your membership benefits and structure — and give you some advice for attracting us flaky millennials to your cause.

I also recommend reading this article from Association Laboratory. It’s a good read, and it adds a more research to back up some of the points I’ll try to make here.

Pay it forward: Help them find a job

What is the first thing every young person leaving college worries about? Finding a job. And what do associations do? They connect people around interests or trades. Every association should have a job board and a representative canvassing college campuses and job fairs for potential members.

I joined my first association in college — the Public Relations Society of America — and I’m still a member today. They didn’t find me my first job, but they gave me major boosts to my resume that eventually helped me land one in communications. My experience with PRSA will stick with me throughout my career, and it was merely a volunteer opportunity. Imagine the impact your association could make with a scholarship or job program when attracting young members.

Give them something free

Millennials are constantly advertised to, but they don’t have any money, so traditional marketing tactics won’t get them to take the plunge. Even social media marketing can backfire if you’re not careful. So, give them something for free. Of course, this sounds crazy. Why should you give away your association’s benefits? If benefits are available to everyone, then what is their motivation for joining? This is where you need to change your mindset.

For our generation, it’s not about purchasing a product, it’s about supporting a cause. And who better to support a cause than associations? More than just tangible benefits, millennials want to be part of groups that let us feel like we’re making a difference — and that we’re part of a broader community. Change your association’s focus to be less about providing a service or product and more about delivering experience and social capital to your members. Then, you have the makings of a millennial smorgasbord.

Be nice to your employees

In addition to supporting your external member community, you should support the diversity and well-being of your staff. Millennials Google everything, so they’re likely to find out everything they can about your association, your staff, your board of directors and other members before they drop any of their own money on membership. If your association is perceived as an “old boys club” or at all neglectful of your employees, you may have trouble attracting a broad contingent of millennials.

Do more than offer your members benefits — offer them to your employees as well, then tell everyone about it. Your happy employees will inevitably share on social media how much they love — or hate — work, and you can also encourage them to do so. Let them share photos of themselves and their co-workers at social gatherings or on work-sponsored retreats. Happy, relaxed and vocal employees are the foundation of a happy membership and one of the best ways to advertise to skeptical millennials — after all, an advertisement can’t tell me how much it loves working at your association.

One millennial’s thoughts on YP councils

Creating a young professional council or even a young professional conference is not usually a great way to attract millennials. We don’t join associations to mingle with people our own age — if we wanted to do that, we’d go to a bar. We join associations to take part in the same groups and events that all members of the association take part in.

Unless your organization is targeting only young adults, relegating millennials to a young professional group simply segregates us from the valuable industry knowledge and advice of elder members. It also creates an artificial fissure within your association community.Invite millennials to take part in councils and committees as any other member would. Embrace the passion that exuberant young members can ignite among your established members and share with them the wisdom that elder members bestow on the young.

American Staffing Association

Luke Zimmer graduated from Indiana University with degrees in journalism and anthropology. He has worked with associations and non-profits for more than 5 years with a specific interest in social media and online communities.

In addition to his work with the American Staffing Association, Zimmer also volunteers with the American Society of Association Executives where he chairs the ASAE communication section council’s knowledge sub-committee. He is also a frequent speaker at ASAE events in addition to contributing to the ASAE newsletter, Associations Now. Zimmer has also spoken to webinar audiences for Higher Logic, the National Association of Bar Executives, and AssociationSuccess.org.

In his free time, Zimmer also blogs on community management, social media, and technology news and issues at Skariphos.com.

Luke Zimmer graduated from Indiana University with degrees in journalism and anthropology. He has worked with associations and non-profits for more than 5 years with a specific interest in social media and online communities. In addition to his work with the American Staffing Association, Zimmer also volunteers with the American Society of Association Executives where he chairs the ASAE communication section council’s knowledge sub-committee. He is also a frequent speaker at ASAE events in addition to contributing to the ASAE newsletter, Associations Now. Zimmer has also spoken to webinar audiences for Higher Logic, the National Association of Bar Executives, and AssociationSuccess.org. In his free time, Zimmer also blogs on community management, social media, and technology news and issues at Skariphos.com.

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