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Maneesha Manges

By: Maneesha Manges on May 15th, 2019

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How to Increase Millennial/Gen Z Membership in Professional Organizations

member engagement

Many associations are facing a daunting generational challenge. Baby Boomers are retiring en masse, having provided many associations with a stable membership for the past 40 years.

The Millennial generation taking their place can seem erratic and unpredictable in comparison. They’re harder to recruit, harder to engage with, and harder to retain.

And the generation after them seems to present an even more daunting challenge. Some members of Gen Z are now starting to graduate from college and enter the workforce, bringing with them a whole new set of expectations about association membership.

How can you update your strategy to reflect the needs of these new generations? First, you need to understand them. Here are six important things you need to know

1. They are Digital Natives

No one under 35 has experienced a world without the web; no one under 20 has experienced a world without smartphones and social media.

Older generations are digital migrants. They lived in the analog world and migrated to an online existence. Newer generations were born here. They are the digital natives, and the internet has always been part of their world. This doesn’t mean that everyone under 35 is a tech wizard. It just means that they generally take digital services for granted in a way that older people might not.

Understanding this difference is crucial. Digital natives expect a basic level of online functionality: downloadable content, self-service portals, contact forms, social media channels, and eLearning. If you don’t offer these services, digital natives will likely assume that they’re not welcome in your association or that your association doesn't add any value.

2. They prefer flexible subscription models

The fixed annual membership fee is a major stumbling block for many associations when trying to recruit younger members.

Millennials and Gen Z are accustomed to a monthly subscription payment with no obligation. Netflix and Spotify are prominent examples, but we see the same pricing model for professional tools like Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and Amazon Web Services.

A model like this may not work for every association. However, it’s essential to understand the incoming generation’s attitude toward payments. It’s also important to understand what they can afford – people in this group generally have less disposable income than previous generations, and often have to make hard decisions about what they can afford.

3. They dislike formal structures

A lot of association programming is still rooted in the traditional offline structure. Read this book, take this exam, come to this conference; associations are all doing this, but offline.

Millennials and Gen Z tend to be engaged with organizations that are more flexible and progressive with their approach. They may take part in group-learning projects, including huge, online Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), which tend to be very collaborative.

They also enjoy a degree of gamification. This is literally about turning things into games with attainable goals. So, for example, completing training materials might give you experience points (XP), and gathering XP allows you to “level up”with your level displayed on your profile.

Strategies like gamification can help create a sense of engagement. Forcing people to sit through rigidly-structured programming can have the opposite effect, engagement-wise. 

4. They expect innovation based on feedback

The global economy has been transformed in recent years by fast-moving start-ups who aggressively innovate. Netflix, Uber and Airbnb have left their traditional rivals scrambling to innovate.

In this environment, a change-resistant organization seems quaint at best. Most younger people won’t be interested in joining, simply because they know that such an organization is on borrowed time, just waiting to be digitally disrupted out of existence.

Which doesn’t mean that they want an organization that employs a random, scattershot approach to innovation.  Innovation has to be based on insight – understanding member needs and working to find new ways to fulfill those needs. This is why it’s so important for your organization to have a robust data analytics program to help guide your way.

But Millennials and Gen Z also expect to be able to have direct input into this innovation. Make sure that you have open channels where they can engage, share ideas and offer feedback on new projects.

5. Their idea of value is different

The Millennial/Gen Z idea of value for money is impacted by two key factors. One is that, as digital natives, they have access to a vast range of alternatives. Rather than study your education modules, for example, they could look for free videos and ebooks online, so you have to ask if you can compete with that.

The other factor is that these are generations who are less financially solvent than their predecessors. Gen Z, in particular, show high levels of anxiety about their financial future. This makes them hesitant to take on new burdens such as an annual membership fee.

The solution to both issues is to create a value proposition that truly connects with them. Your marketing to Millennials and Gen Z should focus on how membership offers benefits that they can’t access anywhere else: exclusive research reports, education from the best minds in the industry, and a chance to network with their colleagues.

You also need to show how this is a good investment. Focus on what they could be earning if they advance their careers by sticking with the education path that you offer.

6. They will produce more membership churn

Churn among the Boomer generation tended to be very low, which may have made some associations complacent. It may also cause a degree of panic when you see how many members are joining up and then quitting again within a year.

Don’t panic. The Millennial/Gen Z approach to membership looks a lot different from their Boomer/Gen X counterparts. Churn will happen, and there are two things to bear in mind:

  1. You can minimize this churn by focusing on engagement and building a meaningful value proposition
  2. Every member who quits can potentially be re-recruited, with the right marketing strategy

Securing the Next Generation

All of the points raised here are ultimately small details. In the end, recruiting and retaining each generation boils down to the same thing: can you provide your members with value?

In order to do this, you need to make the effort to understand them. Find out as much as you can about the emerging generation of new members. Find out about their goals, their fears, and the challenges they face. If you can provide them with the support they need, you’ll have a new generation of members for life.

About Maneesha Manges

Maneesha Manges is a seasoned digital marketing professional with over 15 years of experience working in multiple markets and global companies. She currently leads HighRoad's Client Services team after having spent three years helping to develop and launch ExxonMobil’s Next Generation digital marketing properties in the US, Russia and China markets. Her prior experience includes consulting roles in digital marketing strategy, data analysis, field marketing and social media. Maneesha holds a Master of Business Administration degree in High-Tech Marketing from American University’s Kogod School of Business and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Concordia University in Montreal.