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You may have heard the saying, "the youth are our future." When it comes to associations, this statement could not be truer. If you work in communications for an association, it’s no secret that your world is changing. Membership numbers are dropping because young professionals are choosing not to join associations.

According to the Department of Labor, by 2025, Millennials and Gen Z will account for over 75% of the workforce. Despite this, only 29% of association members are from these younger generations. Association membership skews heavily toward older generations, so if your association wants to survive, you need to attract and engage younger members.

Using our two decades of experience working with associations, we’ve come up with three ways that your association can reach younger generations.

  1. Target the right audience, at the right time, with the right message
  2. Evolve education and professional development to be more relevant
  3. Use transparent storytelling to connect with younger audiences

We’ll expand on this advice and provide tactical tips on how you can leverage it.

Need help attracting Millennial and Gen Z members to your association? Reach out.

We’ll help you engage and retain the younger audiences that are so critical to your association’s future.

Target the Right Audience, at the Right Time, with the Right Message

Be Where Your Audience is

Young professionals today are building their careers across social and professional channels. They network and find work on LinkedIn, learn on YouTube, and upskill on Udemy. They draw inspiration from TikTok and Instagram. And they seek out communities on Reddit and Facebook. Your association can start connections with younger members in these places. Show younger generations in these channels the value of joining your association with useful thought leadership content (articles, blog posts, infographics, videos, podcasts, etc.) and provide meaningful, career-building connections to their professional community.

Remember, younger generations are inundated with content, so keep your messaging clear and concise, be creative, and be BOLD. If your association takes itself too seriously, you’re unlikely to appeal to a younger audience.

Create Targeted Communications

Make sure your messages are relevant, personal, authentic, and focused on the interests of younger generations. Remember, you’re trying to appeal to a specific group of people, so make your communications specific to them. For example, Millennials prefer organizations that embrace technology, contribute to society, and foster relationships with others. So, a targeted effort to college graduates and/or young professionals could be offering free registration to a paid event to see your current membership base participating and networking.

Champion Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for New and Existing Members

You might think SEO is only for boosting web traffic, but that’s just one way you can use it. SEO can help you target specific audiences if you create content with relevant keywords about the concepts that prospective members want to know more about. If your association’s website is a top result in their Google search, younger audiences can connect your association with relevant, valuable insights and thought leadership.

Evolve Education and Professional Development to be More Relevant

Re-Evaluate the "Career Ladder" Messaging

The “work hard and pay your dues” career advancement messaging that may have worked for Baby Boomers and Gen X doesn’t resonate with Millennials and Gen Z. These younger generations seek more purpose-driven occupations. They want to know what they can do TODAY to make a difference.

So, how can your association adapt to this mindset? Focus on the skills and experience young professionals can bring to their organizations today. Highlight how they can contribute to their organizations or take part in leadership or governing opportunities within your association as a member. Let them know they can impact the profession by participating in committees or helping shape your organization's policies. Connect to younger generations’ desire to find meaning and purpose in their work by creating a sense of community, solidarity, and support from your association.

Attract Career Switchers

According to McKinsey, 60% of professionals who started a new job from 2020–2022, also changed careers. Your association can attract these professionals with explicit messaging/content in your digital channels that caters to their transition and allows them to gain the skills they need to thrive in their new career path. This could extend to more tangible benefits like discounted membership rates or exclusive programs and events for career switchers.

Format Your Education in Ways that Meet Audience Needs

Your delivery of information is just as important as the information itself. Incorporate quick-hitting videos, infographics, and other visuals in your educational content to make complex topics more accessible—and entice younger audiences to your website with previews of this engaging content. Use language and examples they can relate to, where appropriate. Ditch the dry industry jargon, and make sure your message is clear and concise.

Use Transparent Storytelling to Connect with Younger Audiences

Express the Value of Membership through Shared Values

What does your organization stand for? Make sure these values are evident in everything your association says and does. Be transparent about how your association makes decisions, measures success beyond monetary metrics, and listens and learns from dissenting voices in the community. Young people are looking for organizations that share their values and are committed to making a difference in their community and society at large.

Visualize Impact on the Community Served

When communicating to younger generations about how your association “lives” its values, it’s crucial to visualize your impact on the community you serve. This doesn’t have to be limited to “community service” in a traditional sense, but rather showing how your association advocates for the profession on Capitol Hill or awards scholarships to students in the field. These efforts show tangible ways that your association is leading the way. And they offer specific examples of how members can get involved to make a difference.

More Than Membership Dues

Younger generations are vital to your association’s survival, not just to collect membership dues, but because they help your association grow and thrive by bringing new energy, ideas, and perspectives. Your association can remain relevant to younger audiences if you help younger and older generations with shared interests to come together, learn from one another, and build meaningful relationships that have a real impact on your community. You can do that by targeting younger audiences at the right time with the right message, evolving your education and professional development to be more relevant, and using transparent storytelling to connect with younger audiences.

There’s no better time than the present to start initiatives that can help you engage and retain younger members. Contact us to leverage our two decades of experience working with associations and find out how we can help you connect with Millennials and Gen Z, audiences that are vital to your association.


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