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How to attract young professionals to your association

Attracting young professionals while maintaining a core membership base. Tough task but not impossible.

The benefits that attracted older members to your association are of little consequence to those mysterious, tech-savvy youngsters known otherwise as millennials. They’re a tough crowd to woo, but succeed at captivating their digitised minds and you’ll earn their membership for life. Chelsea Wallis explains.

You’ve been talking about me behind my back. Go on, admit it. Millennials like me can’t move out of their parents’ houses. They can’t remember life without the internet. They’ve got short attention spans and need constant, positive reinforcement. It’s easy to generalise the negatives when we talk about what’s not working. Why? Because it’s incredibly difficult to figure out what a successful, millennial-focused communications strategy looks like.

The struggle to attract millennials is two-fold. Firstly, millennials exist on a wavelength far removed from the day-to-day realities of your core membership – that being Gen X and the Baby Boomers. Millennials live online. They’re ferociously ambitious (more so than the preceding generations) and consider the concepts of ‘real-time’ and ‘always-on’ communication to be societal requisites. Secondly, associations working hard to reach this peer group are going about it in entirely the wrong way, using the language, platforms and frequency that they’ve always used – and they wonder why younger prospects aren’t taking the bait…

Don’t worry, if you’re struggling to reach potential millennial members, you’re not alone. While some associations are making a good effort of engaging younger members, others are worried about alienating their strong baby boomer membership, or maybe they can’t get the board buy-in to make the necessary changes.

Worryingly, our member communications survey indicates that members’ perceived benefits have been diminishing year on year. More than 35 per cent of associations are struggling to reinvigorate disengaged members, as the tactics that worked in the past no longer work in terms of board buy-in and ROI.

But your next generation of members – the Y and Z generations, the digital natives, the millenials – are now hitting their stride professionally, and they’re looking for the career leadership and development that your association can provide.

Return on investment

You’re not the only one looking for ROI. Sarah Sladek of XYZ University told Association Mavens in 2012 that a culture of engagement is important to younger generations. They have seen big economic shifts and want to know member dues are going to leadership and motivation, learning and feedback, or helping make a difference.

Unfortunately, Sladek says, associations have become a bit lazy in what they offer.

“Right now, I think you could pull up just about any association website and go to their join now section, and see all of the benefits, and they’ll be listed out,” Sladek says. “Things like you get a printed listing in the membership directory – whoop de doo. You get a discount in going to the annual conference. Again – whoop de doo.”

That is a chasm between what’s expected and what is delivered. You could say that right now, most millennials who’re considering joining an association are planning on jumping into a professional environment not too dissimilar to this:

Attracting young professionals to your association

So, how can you attract young professionals, all the while maintaining your core membership base?

Ask us what we want

Talk to us, face to face. Speak with your younger members. Connect with your third degree connections – do your members have staffers who fall within the millennial bracket? How about their colleagues? Identify what they care about and the challenges they face in their professional lives. Here’s a helpful tip: in your next member survey, include questions that can help to identify the different needs of your association’s various generations. (Here’s a post detailing the steps you need to take to get cracking on a cracking member comms survey)

Be thoughtful in your use of social media

This means doing more than simply tweeting press releases. Find out where your younger members hang out in the social sphere and construct compelling posts that speak – in their language – to the wants, needs and challenges your conversations with millennials or your survey uncovered. We digital natives are perpetually hungry for shareable content that makes us feel as though we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves.

Show us potential career pathways

Ensure your content provides practical examples of the career pathways available to us. Will success come through specialisation or should we broaden our skill sets? Which of your training and education courses should we consider? Interview and profile members who span your association’s professional spectrum – from graduate to CEO – and share their stories, highlighting how they got there. Along with this, provide real-time opportunities for millennials to ask questions online, be it through social media, a private forum or your website.

Mentor us

Establish mentoring programs in which both parties play the role of mentor and mentee at one point or another. Remember, millennials have just as much to bring to the table as you do. Share the program’s success stories to encourage more people to sign up over time.

Personally invite us to events

This might sound old-fashioned and contradictory to everything I’ve just said but put yourself in the shoes of a 20-something-year-old graduate for a moment. Reckon it’s scary showing up to a networking event all on your own? Try doing that as a rookie who’s just starting out! Sure, super-confident millennials exist but, for the rest of us, it undoubtedly helps to have a personal invitation from someone you already know.

Offer us the opportunity to get in front of VIPs

It may be a stereotype but many millennials are of the mindset that they’ll be running the shop within a few years of having entered an industry. We want to be taken seriously, to have our ideas listened to and to have access to those at the top. It’s a misconception that all you need to do is give us a YP committee and a trivia night for under 35s. In fact, most of the time we don’t like being treated as a separate group. It makes us feel marginalised. We want to connect with the movers and shakers.

How’s this for an idea: try hosting a dinner where more experienced members each invite a bright up-and-comer. Arrange a coveted guest speaker, and have everyone change seats after each course so they can engage in some great conversations, meet new people and learn from one another.

Give us a mission

We are more globally connected than any other generation. We care about sustainability and making a difference. Want to know what doesn’t matter to us? ‘Representing the industry.’

To be fair, we know it’s a good thing to align ourselves with an association that represents the ‘voice of the sector’. It just doesn’t resonate as much as you would like it to. We’re far more likely to connect with an organisation possessive of a mission that works to tackle big societal problems and shifts community perceptions about what its profession or industry does.

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