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Do you know who your members will be 10 years from now?

By 2025, Millennials will account for 75 percent of the American workforce.

By 2030, just 10 years from now, Generation Z will start to occupy senior leadership roles and indeed, Generation Alpha will be leaving school and starting their own careers. The intent here isn’t to assume or stereotype, the opposite actually. The search for your future member — of any age or generational label — must be an on-going commitment, rooted in a sincere understanding of motivations and expectations.

Yes, this is going to be a challenge, and to succeed you must recognize that these changes in workforce demographics will have a significant impact on your association as you strive to meet both the current and shifting member needs.

In my experience, many associations and nonprofit organizations struggle to connect with and truly understand the distinctive expectancies of their current members, let alone forecast the needs of future prospective members.

These organizations are failing to build a pipeline; they lack a dedicated campaign to appeal to and engage, Millennials and GenZ members.

Add to this, all the recent global and domestic issues confronting us that will further challenge the member recruitment efforts of many organizations for years to come.

As COVID-19 and social justice and equity discussions continue to command the spotlight, I fear this discussion of younger and future members is being lost. Amongst all this disruption, membership associations can’t afford to forget about future members, young or old. Especially young!

This conversation cannot be apologetic, nor can it devolve into semantics regarding what to call different groups of different ages.

Most recently, I have seen successful nonprofit clients focus their next generational engagement efforts in some of the following four ways:

1. Allow them to have a voice right away. Often in associations, it takes years of volunteering, whether on committees, event task forces, or advisory councils, to rise to a position of authority. Prospective Millennials and GenZs 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.

Appeal to younger prospective members by offering them a way to have a tangible impact in the immediate and short term. This validates their participation and can provide invaluable insight into the needs of that audience.

  • Tip: Don’t relegate younger members to social media. It’s a corner they don’t want to be relegated. Identify a younger member (or members) to serve as an ambassador in an area of interest to them: workforce development, mentoring, diversity and inclusion. Quickly acclimate them to the organizational culture and voice, identify the programmatic priorities, and allow them to cultivate relationships and serve as an organizational champion and industry influencer.

2. Integrate and elevate younger members throughout. I encourage my clients to allow younger members to immediately partake in the full spectrum of association offerings.

Don’t sequester your young members and prospective leaders to “Future Leader” or “Young Professional” groups. How will they ever see the full value of the organization or interact with their peers in different phases of membership?

  • Tip: Appoint student and young professional representatives to the Board of Directors and other standing committees. While these may remain non-voting positions (remember that giving them a vote shows respect for their time and input), the opportunity to have a voice at the Board level through a peer representative can be a powerful incentive to join and remain a part of your organization.

3. Meet them where they are. Your association might not be ready for TikTok (nor is it advisable), but you still need to embrace technology to have any chance at engaging younger members. That means a sincere and vibrant presence on the social channels that your target audience frequents.

In the case of Millennials and GenZ, this means developing media and marketing strategies that may include Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, etc. and evaluating the real value of sites like Facebook. Whatever your delivery channels, remember that to increase awareness amongst your “future members” you can’t just have a profile. You need to share relevant content and build a community.

  • Tip: See No. 1 above. Empower your marketing and communications staff to work closely with your younger ambassadors to help build relevant online content. Give them credit for the work they are doing in a place they will be seen by their peers.

4. Give them real value. I find it overly general and even condescending to assume that younger generations are “not joiners.” Like members of every age, Millennials and GenZs will give their time and money when they see the tangible value.

When your organization can solve their problems or make their lives or careers easier, they will join, irrespective of age. This requires associations to abandon the “ for the good of the order” sales pitch and define their value proposition in a way that resonates with each segment of their membership audience. One size does not fit all when it comes to ROI.

  • Tip: Recognize that financial pain points are different for younger members and help early career professionals navigate the challenges of financial management, student debt, or early career professional development. Fund a scholarship for education or research, establish a mentor or even reverse mentor program, or offer a review session for students/young professionals required to pass a specific exam to rise in their field.

Whether or not you have considered the “how”, you must first acknowledge the need and make the engagement of your future member a priority. Among the critical questions shared in the article “7 Questions to Guide Your Membership Strategy” (Associations Now, March 3, 2020), author Arundati Dandapani asks: are you helping the next generation of members; are we doing enough to foster collaboration; are we member-centric; are we forging lasting relationships?

Common to all these engagement strategies is authenticity and creating a targeted experience. You can’t expect to connect with, onboard, retain, and elevate your member of 2025 the way you did your member of 1985. With each generation will come different expectations of professional associations. By 2030 our membership world will look very different. So, who is your member in 2030? What is your recruitment and retention strategy?

So, how is your association responding to these questions? If you are going to secure the next generation of membership, it is important to get started.

These four recommendations are just a starting point. You will need to continually evaluate, execute, and evolve your engagement techniques.

Just as no two generations are alike, no two members are exactly alike.

Need help identifying your member of 2030? In our exclusive members-only course, "Who is your member of 2030," Elisa Pratt will help you design and begin to cultivate a pipeline for future member development. She'll walk you through how to get started recruiting and retaining future members — even if you don't have the perfect profile of your ideal member. Learn more here.

Elisa Pratt
Post by Elisa Pratt
October 26, 2020
Elisa B. Pratt, MA, CAE, is an association guru and expert in strategic nonprofit solutions that increase membership, diversify revenue and ensure relevance. Prior to the founding of Brewer Pratt Solutions, LLC, she served for nearly 20 years as an impactful association management executive with several national trade and individual membership associations. Known for her candid and hyper-custom approach, Elisa architects innovative engagement solutions, tactical member development campaigns and operational effectiveness strategies. With a unique background in fundraising and advocacy, membership and stakeholder relations, as well as national and chapter operations, Elisa’s diverse expertise makes her a valuable partner and advisor to both national and international non-profit clients.