Despite popular sentiment that millennials are disinterested in joining traditional professional associations, young people are uniquely positioned to benefit from association membership in important ways. Many of the things millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) value most, including connection, collaboration and community outreach, can be integral aspects of membership.
Recent research from Naylor’s Association Communications Benchmarking Survey suggests that more than half (56 percent) of associations admit they have trouble engaging young professionals, and 55 percent of associations have trouble customizing their communications for different member sub-groups. However, this disconnect can be overcome if association professionals better understand the motivations of millennials and are willing to target their marketing campaigns to attract them.
Here are five reasons why millennials join associations and five ways associations can attract and retain millennial members:
Five reasons why millennials join associations
- Networking: Opportunities for networking abound within professional associations, and millennials tend to value the chance to make new personal and professional connections. millennials are used to blending work and social life, and associations and events provide ways to connect with both peers and industry leaders. Unlike the individualistic Generation X, born into the tumult of the 1960s and 1970s, young people today are joiners. In my experience, we want to be part of a group that is working toward something meaningful and bigger than ourselves. The value we place on collaboration and teamwork, combined with our desire to make a difference, heightens our interest in connecting to a community of people with shared interests and common goals.
- Gaining new skills: In addition to connecting with new people, millennials are keen on discovering new opportunities for individual learning and growth. In spite of their reputation as apathetic and entitled, today’s young people, like those of previous generations, are motivated, optimistic, and forward thinking. Millennials looking to learn new things and accelerate their professional development can find ample support within professional associations.
According to Matthew Harrington of New Directions Consulting, the number one post-recession career plan for millennials is to enhance their skill set. While millennials are working at their entry-level day jobs, associations can offer practical lessons on the side—like strategic thinking and public speaking—that are useful stepping stones toward a dream career.
- Educational and professional resources: millennials love to learn. As Bravetta Hassley of Chief Learning Officer explains, “millennials are hankering for development… and learning is in a prime position to keep millennial talent from heading out the door.” Associations provide access to an abundance of members-only resources that are attractive to young people trying to expand their skill sets and establish a career trajectory. These professional resources make association membership a valuable tool for personal branding. millennials are enthusiastic about personal branding, which describes how people market themselves and their careers as brands.
For example, my peers and I groom our Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr pages daily as a form of self-expression. Taking cues from pop culture, we recognize the power and importance of cultivating a recognizable and unique image of ourselves to advertise to the world. This interest in personal branding extends to the professional sphere as well. Associations give millennials a valuable opportunity to work on personal branding and career advancement.
- Jobs: Of special importance to millennials is finding satisfying and well-paying jobs, as many of us are saddled with college debt and struggling to find a career that matches our skills with our passions—and still pays the bills. Associations often offer members-only job listings that can help companies tap into the immense talent and insight of young people. As an added bonus, members of associations may have a leg up in the hiring process as some companies find that candidates who belong to associations are pre-vetted in a sense and more serious about their careers.
- Community outreach: Millennials have been dubbed “The Giving Generation” because we are very likely to participate in charity work and view donations as investments in causes we care about. Research shows that millennials are likely to engage in company giving, so if associations participate in community outreach efforts, there’s a good chance this will be a plus for young people thinking about becoming members.
Five ways associations can attract and retain millennials better
- Market your association as mission-focused. Millennials have a desire to make a difference. We need to feel that the work we’re doing has real value and that associations support issues or provide services we believe in. Associations should try to project an atmosphere that emphasizes innovation and teamwork, with an end goal of contributing to society in a positive and important way.
- Flexibility and affordability are essential. Many young people are in debt, and with endless free opportunities for social networking online, it is essential that associations set membership prices as low as possible and make joining worth our time and money. In-person connection is valuable for building quality relationships, but some young people simply cannot afford the cost of membership and are forced to stick with online networking. Rethinking your revenue model to break down—or at least lower—the cost barrier is one way to make your association more accessible and more attractive to young people.
- Interact with millennials in a meaningful, authentic way. Learn to master social media and become technologically innovative. Avoid, however, coming off as trying too hard to be “hip” or using too much internet lingo. Your online presence should be professional and in step with the times, engaging your younger audience in a way that feels natural. Be intentional, not aggressive, with your tech strategy.
- Make your association’s events interactive and fun. Emphasize hands-on activities and collaborative learning. Cultivate an atmosphere at your events that fosters creativity and camaraderie; make your events a place that is welcoming for young people and offers a variety of experiences, from mentoring programs to workshops to entertaining learning labs.
- Avoid stereotyping. When it comes to millennials—a group of more than 80 million people—we are not a lazy, tech-obsessed monolith. Rather, millennials have unique perspectives and skills that make us great assets to professional organizations. Simply get to know us and value us as part of your association, and a mutually beneficial relationship is sure to develop.
In many ways, millennials are a natural fit for associations. They value social and professional networking, personal branding and growth, and community outreach, all of which are well within the function of professional organizations. If associations market themselves in a way that is accessible, inviting and low-cost, millennials are more likely to become members. And once associations start gaining the membership of millennials, a positive feedback loop develops. Young people want to be involved in groups with their peers; the more young people an association has within its ranks, the more young people will want to join, and the stronger your association will become.
Eryn Underwood is a marketing intern with Naylor Association Solutions.