What Makes Young Members Tick?

A new benchmarking study focuses on young professionals’ views on membership. While many from the Gen Z and millennial generations decide to join associations, they’re skeptical about the value and benefits that membership brings. That’s a challenge associations will need to overcome.

Did you know that by next year, millennials and Gen Zers will make up more than half of the global workforce? Already, they account for a huge share of labor pool—more than a third of all U.S. employees are millennials, according to Pew Research, and increasingly they’re being joined by Gen Z professionals.

The good news is that many Gen Zers and millennials say there’s value in joining associations, even at a time when competing professional resources and networks are as close as the click of a button—and often at little or no cost. That’s according to a new membership benchmarking study from Personify, a company specializing in constituent management and member engagement.

“Despite unparalleled access to many digital resources that associations may consider to be competitors—things like YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, or [other] online networking—young members still find value in being part of an association,” says Amanda Myers, director of product growth for Personify. “Eighty-seven percent of young members said it was important to be part of an association, and just over half [51 percent] said it was becoming more important than ever before.”

But there are still many challenges ahead for associations looking to recruit, engage, and retain millennial and Gen Z members. Today, it’s more important than ever for membership-based organizations to demonstrate value for the cost of membership.

“In our study, one in three respondents said they had no idea how being in an association actually benefited them. And almost half of all respondents said there wasn’t a strong return-on-investment value,” Myers says. “That’s alarming and a wake-up call for associations.”

Myers says every association should be asking itself: What do young members value most? By understanding their habits and attitudes toward membership, she thinks it’s possible to break through the ROI challenge.

Peer-to-peer recruitment. Even though younger members are tuned into social networks and digital media, many millennials and Gen Zers said word of mouth drove their decision to join an organization. Almost half (49 percent) said the decision stemmed from a conversation that took place at an event. For 42 percent of respondents, a personal interaction with a member led them to sign up.

“This shows us that authentic connections matter and can be much more relatable than other tactics for recruitment,” Myers says. She suggests tapping young members to serve as volunteer recruiters or ambassadors and creating special referral incentives that drive word-of-mouth recruitment.

Instagram engagement. The study cites Instagram as an often underutilized but powerful tool to recruit and engage member prospects. Forty-six percent of young members said they use this social media platform to keep up with associations, and 76 percent said it’s an effective way to stay in touch—ranking it higher than Snapchat, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

Event follow-up. While a large majority of young members (81 percent) reported attending an association event in the last 24 months, almost a third said they didn’t receive any sort of post-event follow-up from the experience. That’s a huge mistake, Myers says. “There is an overwhelming number of young members participating in association events, especially in workshops, trainings, networking, or community service events,” she says. “But associations are missing a critical opportunity to follow up. That’s something that should be very easy to resolve.” Something as simple as a quick thank you note could inspire continued participation.

Price sensitivity. Only 40 percent of young members reported that their membership experience was worth the dues they paid. And one-fifth said their membership lapsed in the past year. These are troubling statistics, but keep in mind that Gen Zers and millennials are juggling high levels of student debt.

Myers suggests reevaluating your association’s pricing strategy to make sure it matches members’ perceived value. And the rise of the subscription-based economy could mean members are more inclined to pay monthly installments for dues, like other subscription-based services. “I wonder if, in some regard, there is a more transactional nature or behavior to how membership now works,” Myers says. “Perhaps making membership more affordable and palatable to someone who’s early in their career could make all the difference.”

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Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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