August 2019 – Engaging Future Generations in your Association

In today’s dynamic world with technology and demographics in a constant state of flux, a “one-size fits all” approach to membership recruitment and retention is simply no longer viable. As a result, associations must modernize their thinking. For example, younger members joining associations today do not hold the same perspective about membership benefits as held by their more established peers, thereby compelling organizations to redefine their membership experience. Meeting this challenge requires associations to pay particular attention to member value across many age categories and physiographic profiles to ensure that they are addressing the needs and wants of all members.

To maintain relevance to current and future members, a continuous process of evaluation and an attitude that is malleable and open-minded to adjust to the needs of all generations will be necessary to stay relevant. Put into practice, it is important to preserve a focus on the older segments of the current workforce (Baby Boomers- born between 1946-1964, Generation X- born between 1965-1980) as well as expand our focus to capture the attention of Millennials, also known as Generation Y (born between 1981-1996), now the largest growing segment of the workforce in the United States, and ultimately, what will be the next influx of workers, Generation Z (born between 1997-2012)1, 2.

To appeal to the younger generations now in the workforce and others poised to join them as they near graduation from high school and college, it is critical that associations consider a variety of factors characterizing these demographics:

  • Need to make a difference
  • Desire for connection and community
  • Quest for recognition
  • Inherently technologically savvy
  • Enormous demand for their time, money, digital attention and social interaction

In order to address these characteristics of young professionals, associations can employ key strategies to focus membership outreach:

  1. Be mission and issue-driven – give younger members a platform where they can feel they are making a difference to individuals and society.
  2. Target specific demographics – find out what the next generations value and determine the messaging that will most powerfully convey what your association can offer to provide that value.
  3. Communicate with innovative and current technology– next generations are digital natives, so employ cutting-edge technology and social media to connect. Create websites that are interactive, engaging and mobile-ready as well as include engaging video and other high-impact digital content.
  4. Make it bite size – offer them micro-tasks and volunteer opportunities, micro-reading through individual blog posts and other content vehicles, the ability to weigh in on micro-issues at the grassroots level, and micro-learning options for professional development. Let them test the waters before committing to larger projects and activities.
  5. Be cost-effective – be mindful of the economic reality being confronted by the younger member (e.g., student loans, etc.) and consider establishing dues structures that reassure joining your association is worth the time and money required. There are many free online opportunities to network and build communities, so your solution has to stand out.
  6. Effectively on-board – first impressions still matter. Personalize initial interactions with new members and give them immediate value. Warmly welcome and involve them in your events to cultivate a strong sense of belonging.
  7. Provide opportunities to grow professionally and personally – create experiences for your members. Offer networking events with peer groups and educational opportunities for early career that are interactive and fun. The options to engage younger generations are many; their time, attention and money are much more limited.

In our next issue, we will dive deeper into the potential of educational and association conference programming to engage the various demographics and career levels.

Want to develop a membership marketing plan for your association? Contact AEG to get started today at 414-908-4924 or

1Fry, Richard. Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Pew Research Center. 2019.
2Dimock, Michael. Defining generations: Where millennials end and generation Z begins. Pew Research Center. 2019.