This article was first published by the American Society of Association Executives.
Associations have been talking about recruitment and engagement strategies for younger generations for the better part of the last decade. But considering the recruitment and retention challenges facing trade and professional organizations today, they may need to reexamine how to appeal to both millennials and Gen Zers.
Millennials will make up half of the global workforce by 2020, at which time Gen Z will account for 40 percent of U.S. consumers. While research indicates differences between these generations, both groups value authenticity and consume information very differently than previous generations.
However, any effect this massive cohort is having on the workforce and membership is not due to their lack of desire for professional development. A 2015 Buzz Marketing Group study found that 92 percent of millennials believe professional groups provide great opportunities to network, while 81 percent said they would join an organization to access member benefits.
But, today’s young professionals also have on-demand access to career advancement resources and networking opportunities that previous generations simply didn’t have. They don’t have to search far to find a local event, coffee group, or ideas forum that can help with their career goals. A billion TED Talk video views evidence this, plus LinkedIn and other social networks allow users to build connections on their own time.
With these shifts in mind, here are four initiatives organizations can take to adapt to the needs of younger generations as it relates to workforce and membership:
- Create a sense of purpose. A 2016 Deloitte study [PDF] found that there is a “loyalty challenge” when it comes to millennials in the workforce. This generation holds very little loyalty to employers and instead prefers work that is directly in line with personal values. For associations, that necessitates a transformation aligning business and brand to a greater sense of purpose.
It also has implications for membership. When the International Reading Association sought to increase conference attendance among its aging base of educators and experts, IRA underwent a transformation to reposition itself as a thought leader and champion for a common purpose—literacy. By aligning its identity with this global cause and renaming itself the International Literacy Association, the organization experienced a 15 percent increase in conference attendance, with millennials making up almost 20 percent of attendees.
- Offer experiences that foster collaboration. Research shows that the vast majority of millennials prefer a collaborative work culture over a competitive one. This preference is driven by the desire to build human connections by working with others—virtually and physically—to reach a common goal or purpose.
Associations need to offer opportunities for members to collaborate and connect with others who share their values. Rotary, for example, has created eClubs that meet online. The pitch for Rotary eClub of Silicon Valley reads: “We are community leaders who love eating and drinking while giving back to our communities through collaboration and community service.”
- Provide an outlet for giving and volunteerism. Both millennials [PDF] and Gen Zers value volunteer opportunities, but millennials have been found to exhibit the lowest rates of volunteerism. While the intent is there, many young professionals aren’t presented with opportunities that are relevant to their passions and interests.
It’s a gap that professional organizations can fill. Millennials are more likely to volunteer when they can use specific skill sets to benefit a cause. By offering volunteer activities that align with a common purpose, organizations can present prospective members with value beyond professional development.
- Transform brand identity. Many professional organizations have existed for decades and some have strong brand equity. Every organization should take a hard look at brand identity to determine if it’s still aligned with the organization’s current business model, important audiences, and greater purpose. An organization that successfully did this was the YMCA. In 2010, it decided to simplify its identity to better align with the programs it offers. Today it’s known simply as The Y.
Some rebranding efforts have been completely transformational. In 2016, the leadership of Advertising Women of New York, founded in 1912, wanted to press harder in advancing more women in top positions. The result was a declarative name representing a collective call to action—She Runs It.
Whether targeting the current millennial workforce or catering to a new wave of Gen Zers, associations must go beyond adapting their marketing, recruitment, and engagement strategies and take a deep look at who they are and what value they bring to this new professional environment.