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Is Your Association Ready for the Next Generation of Members?

Here’s a scary thought. At some point in the future, 100% of your association’s current members will have turned over.

Here’s a scary thought. At some point in the future, 100% of your association’s current members will have turned over.

This is guaranteed.

But you face this reality every day. As time goes by, your members will grow older, they will change jobs, and retire. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to prevent this, but there are things you can do to prepare for it.


Your Next Generation of Members: Millennials and Generation Z

The good thing about generations is that there’s always a new one on the way. In fact, you probably have several generations participating in your association today.

While you should value all of your members, it’s your Millennial and Generation Z (Gen-Z) members that you should be paying attention to when it comes to building your organization’s roadmap.

Millennials and Generation Z Are Here

A new generation of members presents opportunities but also challenges.


Like any good steward for your association, you know that not all member generations are created equal, and in order to resonate with this new generation of members, you’ll need to update your recruitment and retention playbook. Here are some things to consider.


Millennial and Generation Z Membership Care-Abouts

Virtual Experience – Millennials and Gen-Z have grown up in the greatest time in history for digital user experiences. Hassle-free online resources are table stakes for them -  providing anything less and you risk looking outdated. Potential members may wonder how you can help them get ahead if you’re so far behind.

This extends to every part of your membership funnel. From first time website visitors trying to learn about you, all the way down to how veteran members pay their dues. Like it or not, you’re participating in the attention economy, and if your members find it too difficult to work with you, they’ll find something else to do with their time.

Collaboration – This is a double-edged sword. Millennials and Gen-Z value collaboration and the opportunity to be a part of something larger than themselves. This aligns well with the purpose of many associations, but beware. That desire to get involved requires the ability to get involved. Members won’t stick around if they join up only to find that it’s an uphill battle to get a seat at the table.

Consider the opportunities you extend to your members to collaborate today and how inclusive they are. Roundtables may sound approachable, but maybe they’re dominated by senior members. Mailing lists may be easy to get started with, but they can get out of hand if members’ email habits aren’t on similar levels. For many, modern member platforms are a great solution here.

Millennials Value Collaboration

For Millennials and Gen-Z, having an equal voice is critical.


Costs – Money will always be an issue, but for Millennial’s and Gen-Z, who are on average poorer than previous generations, you’ll need to find new ways to give them more for their membership investment.

This is not to say you need to simply lower membership dues, cost is just one factor. This is really a conversation about value, and how you communicate your value to potential members. The truth is, you’re going to meet increasing resistance when it comes to getting people to sign up and renew unless you can help them justify the spend. To succeed here, offering more ways to engage with your association and experience its benefits will be critical.


How to Win Over Millennials and Generation Z

If you’re starting to realize how underprepared your association is for the next generation, you’re not alone. While most people have some idea already of how to address the needs above, there’s no silver bullet. The only way forward is to consider all reasonable courses of actions and take the path the best aligns with your association and its goals.

Here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Evaluate Your Membership Tiers and Benefits – Dues can be the first major roadblock to membership. In today’s business environment, free trials and subscriptions abound, and your next generation of members may expect an easier way to ease into your association. Giving potential members a way to try before they buy can help you get a foot in the door with them and showcase the benefits of membership.

  2. Adopt a Hybrid Event Model – You don’t have to give up on in-person events, but you should make virtual attendance a part of your conference strategy. This is also a great way to ensure event success in our post-COVID world. Hybrid events allow all of your members to participate from anywhere and avoid unnecessary travel costs.

  3. Embrace Modern Collaboration Tools – If you’re still working off mailing lists or forum software, now is a great time to upgrade to more interactive tools. Dedicated Facebook and LinkedIn groups are a quick and easy way to test the waters, but keep in mind that it’s harder to keep your members engaged when you don’t own the platform. Member engagement platforms, like Tradewing, allow for an easy transition that lets you retain ownership of your members.

New Members Prefer Mobile-Friendly Experiences

Capabilities like mobile-friendly ways for members to connect are expected now.


Hopefully, these ideas have inspired you to start thinking a bit more about your plans for the future. This next generation of members presents a ton of exciting opportunities for growth and impact for the associations that embrace them.

With a little preparation, you’ll be able to keep your association at the center of your industry, and not become a relic of a bygone era.

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