Tapping the [Membership] Fountain of Youth

Posted By: Donna Oser, CAE Blog, Industry,

Engaging a more youthful membership may be the key to growing your association membership. Today, more than half of our world is under the age of 30, and the workforce majority is under the age of 39 (Sladek, 2022). So how will you grow membership if you don't have a strong youth pipeline

According to Marketing General Incorporated, the largest association-focused direct marketing agency in North America, there is a positive correlation between association membership growth and success in reaching younger members. In its 2022 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Survey, associations that reported increases in their five-year membership levels were significantly more likely to attract more Millennials and Generation X members. In contrast, associations reporting declines had a substantially higher proportion of Baby Boomer members.

The Struggle is Real

Sarah Sladek, a former association executive and renowned thought leader on change management and generational shifts, believes the conventional leadership models of most associations create a blind spot for leaders. Traditions of hierarchy and rigid, drawn-out leadership trajectories amplify the views of seasoned executives who aren't dialed into younger generations' social trends and interests. As a result, many associations have failed to keep pace with change and are not inclusive of younger generations. Sladek points to three significant trends that hint at the profoundly different expectations Generation Z will have of associations:

  1. Education and Training: Gen Z consumes more content than any other generation and turns to a greater variety of sources for learning and inspiration.
  2. Creative Uprising: Youth take to the internet and the streets to protest and rally for change. They create videos and social media posts to hold companies and leaders accountable.
  3. Connectivity: Gen Z is the most connected generation in history. 

Tactic Roundup - How to Attract Younger Members

A Google search delivers lots of great suggestions for engaging younger members. Here's a quick roundup of some of our favorites:

  • Listen! Go to your audience and engage them in dialogue. Ask them what they need. Listen, and create something new and relevant, and meaningful. (Sladek, 2022)
  • Allow them to have a voice right away. Prospective Millennials and Gen Zs aren't going to wait 10 years to serve on the board or to have a say regarding the direction of the industry or the association. (Sidecar, 2022) 
  • Integrate and elevate younger members throughout. Allow younger members to partake in the full spectrum of association offerings immediately. (Sidecar, 2022) 
  • Give them real value. Abandon the 'for the good of the order' sales pitch and define your value proposition in a way that resonates with each segment of your membership audience.

Check out the following source articles for more information: 

The 2022 Membership Benchmarking Report, 14th Ed. (MGI, Inc.) 

The Future of Membership Relies on the Youth (Sladek, 2022)

4 Ways to Attract Younger Members (Sidecar, 2022)