Listen Up: Millennials Have Some Advice for Your Association

Associations must stop thinking of their younger members as a marketing problem and begin thinking of them as a constituency that needs real-world solutions for their unique and complex challenges.

This sharp counsel comes directly from Associations, Millennials and Generation Y, a just released summary report from the American Society of Association Executives invitational retreat with next generation thinkers in September, 2013. This report is a rich discussion starter for every association anxious about attracting and retaining younger members. Plus thanks to clear design and descriptions by facilitator Shelly Alcorn, CAE, Alcorn Associates, you could easily replicate this experience in listening to the voices of your own group of Millennial members.  

ASAE gathered 26 young leaders to analyze how associations can attract younger members. They advised associations to connect with changes in the wider society and focus on major shifts ahead in four functional areas:  professional development, governance, member engagement and programs and services.  Not only is their advice sound, they give us quite a list of potential innovations to respond to specific trends and developments. 

Here’s an example of the insights you will find in this report:  “Younger members seem to have serious concerns with the pace at which diversity and inclusion issues are being addressed at the association level. Large shifts in the employment landscape are leaving younger members adrift and unsure of how to navigate two opposing forces: the lack of employment opportunities in certain fields and the skills gap that is preventing them from moving into available employment slots currently going unfulfilled. In addition, the world is flat and younger members know it. Associations that obsessively focus only on the United States market are moving further out of touch with the perspective of many Generation Y and Millennial members.”

The retreat participants believe associations need to respond in real-time to changes in the workforce environment and regularly gather real world data to intelligently direct workforce development strategies.  Associations can define and develop critical competencies and help their members compete effectively in challenging job markets.

What’s not to love when these up- and-coming leaders take their elders to task for disregarding what makes associations special within society? They are put out when “some established professionals are unapologetic" about protecting their members at all costs rather than working for the betterment of society. “Younger members in particular are questioning this dogma and wondering if, in fact, there aren’t other responsibilities for associations to assume if they want to continue as driving forces for change in the 21st century,” the report muses.

If you use this report as a discussion starter in your association or with young members less intent on being leaders, you might gain different insights. However, holding a similar dialogue could help you break free of a marketing mindset and genuinely connect with their real interests and needs. Don’t assume you understand. Do something to hear their voices. You may be just as  reassured about your association’s future.