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Young professional members are the future of associations, so it is vital to keep them involved. As a young professional (YP) myself, I can tell you that what we want most from associations is a sense of community. This includes being able to make personal connections, use available programs and services to fill gaps in our professional development and contribute to the association’s advancement. 

So what can associations do to engage young professionals and move their mission forward at the same time? Here are six methods to prioritize for the next year. 

1. Face-to-Face Interactions Create Meaningful Connections

Despite advancements in technology, we still value face-to-face interactions as they create authentic, meaningful and valuable connections. Associations are ideal avenues for meeting people. 

As many areas begin opening again post-pandemic, hosting young professional meetups can be a great way to make connections and boost membership in your organization. However, with the flexibility of tools like Zoom, these “face-to-face” interactions can also be done over the internet, allowing for more opportunities and connections within your organization.  

Additionally, as in-person conferences start again, creating meetings and networking opportunities during these events can provide opportunities to interact with more senior members, helping YPs create connections and see the value of membership.

2. Invest in Professional Development for Young Professionals 

Young professionals are eager for professional development tailored to their specific needs. Associations have the tools and resources to meet this need. 

Craft Content Specifically For them

As young professionals continue to enter the workforce, they are often going into organizations and industries with little background knowledge. Crafting content that gives them a strong foundation not only helps them in their careers but also creates more knowledgeable members for your organization.

Some educational programs to focus on for young professionals include: 

  • Industry Foundations: For young professionals entering a new industry, there’s a lot to learn. From common jargon to organizational structures and everything in between. Creating content that teaches them these skills will ensure they sound their best when networking and working within your association space. 
  • Workshops: As the foundation course, workshops are important to teach the “intangibles.” Whether that’s leadership skills, an understanding of DEI, or work-life balance courses, teaching them to be well-rounded professionals is good for everyone. 
  • Resume & Interview Work: One of the main reasons a YP will join an association is for work opportunities. Spending time going through their resumes and teaching interview skills can help advance their careers and ensure your industry has qualified professionals entering the workforce. 

Sometimes, fees can be a barrier to participation, but capitalizing on the skillsets of young professional members can help combat this. Peer-to-peer learning opportunities can help lower costs and generate interest in participation. It’s also important to offer alternatives, including free resources, scholarships or membership grants to remove barriers for a diverse membership group. 

3. Create Volunteering Opportunities for YP

To create engagement and keep young professionals interested and invested in the association, invite us to volunteer, and not just on the young professional committee. Having the ability to participate in association operations and contribute to organizational advancement creates a sense of belonging and want to continue membership. 

We bring different perspectives to the table, which can help the association stay relevant and exciting for younger members, but are not always sure we have the appropriate qualifications for volunteer service. Creating young professional-specific seats on committees or having a willingness-to-serve form letting association staff know who is interested in volunteering when ad-hoc opportunities are available are two ways to bring young professionals into the mix.

Personal invitations to serve let YP members know they are qualified for the role and their opinions are wanted. Once we’re in the room, encouragement that our ideas are valuable and showing a commitment to understanding our viewpoints can make us feel more engaged and willing to further contribute. It’s not enough just to “check the box” saying YPs are participating on the committee. Actively listening to our thoughts on a topic and giving them the same consideration as anyone else’s are essential.

4. Form Young Business Professional Groups 

As YPs look to grow in their professional life, finding young business professional groups is likely to be the first step. These groups allow them to connect with fellow YPs based on their industry and often their physical location – although if the last two years have taught us anything, online groups are just as important as physical ones. 

Associations often act as professional groups for specific industries already, but niching down and creating young business professional groups is a great way to set your organization apart. These groups are not only an opportunity for networking but can be the home base to announce workshops, in-person meet-ups and group mentoring opportunities for your YP membership. 

5. Leverage Senior Membership as Mentors

Professional development is extremely important in today’s workplace as more organizations contend with the Great Resignation. This is especially true for young professionals who are just getting their start and looking for guidance and training. 

For YPs, having an opportunity to work with experienced professionals in an organization or industry they’re interested in pursuing can be invaluable. In most instances, what young professionals are looking for most is guidance – senior members can become a resource for them that also advocate and look for growth opportunities within the industry or organization. 

It’s also important to note that these YPs also have a lot to teach too. By establishing a full-circle mentoring program, organizations can pair professionals of different levels and backgrounds, giving them all an opportunity to learn from one another. As the workforce continues to grow younger, associations need to do their best to stay nimble and up to date with the latest trends. 

6. Find YPs On Their Platforms

Engage your YP members now and there is a greater chance they stay members, volunteer and enter your organization’s pipeline to create leaders and donors. 

But how do you reach them, to begin with? 

The largest barrier for many organizations is a lack of connection with young professionals – often having to do with the platforms used to communicate and connect. While many associations rely on traditional platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, creating content on other platforms can be the first indication to young professionals that your organization is doing its part to connect with them.  

Although it can be a challenge to leverage a new platform, learning from other associations on TikTok is a great way to see what works and what doesn’t. Young professionals are looking for authenticity and relatable storytelling – so experimenting with video, for example, can go a long way to ingratiate your organization with young professionals. This can be as simple as a TikTok or as involved as weekly anecdotes from professionals with relatable experiences to your YPs.

Engaging Young Professionals Is a Long-Term Commitment 

YP members, like all members, want to feel valued and that their voices are heard. A sense of belonging with opportunities to contribute and advance the association keeps YPs engaged. This creates a purpose to being a member, value in being part of the community and want to continue.

Ultimately, YPs want to make connections, build networks, advance our professions, give back and do good in our communities and the world. This is what associations are made to do, but they will not be successful without members. 

YPs are current and future members, but the value proposition for membership decreases as engagement with the organization decreases. Engagement leads to the continuation of membership and association operations which are necessary for organizational stability and longevity.

Jeanette Gass
Post by Jeanette Gass
May 20, 2019
Jeanette Gass, CAP, is currently Program Development & Special Projects Manager for The Optical Society (OSA) in Washington, DC. She supports OSA’s global presence including providing assistance to OSA’s European office, reviewing applications for global meeting grants, and planning programming with international sister societies. In addition, she works on OSA’s Awards and Honors portfolio and manages the book review program for Optics & Photonics News. She holds a Master of Science in Nonprofit and Association Management, a Master of Arts in Global Communication, and a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and Anthropology. Outside of OSA, she serves on ASAE’s International Section Council and volunteers with the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP).