Give Young Members a Greater Leadership Voice

To cultivate its pipeline of future leaders, the National Automatic Merchandising Association evolved its Emerging Leaders Network to ensure that it provides high-quality engagement opportunities and a seat at the leadership table.

Is your association’s emerging leaders’ group going strong, or is it on life support? If it’s a small group of members who repeatedly sign up for the same roles and responsibilities, it’s not as valuable as it could be, says Eric Dell, the National Automatic Merchandising Association’s senior vice president of external relations.

There could be many reasons for low participation. But successfully engaging young people in the leadership pipeline depends on at least one common element.

“I think the 40-and-under age group wants to spend their time wisely,” Dell says. “The more we use their time to add value, the more they’re going to get involved.”

Over the past three years, NAMA has significantly increased participation in its Emerging Leaders Network (ELN), and some of those changes have been ushered in by Membership Director Tori Eberlein.

“I think interest has grown as we continue to create more opportunities outside of traditional networking and volunteering roles,” she says. “It’s professional development that might not fall within the current day-to-day roles that these professionals play, and I think that helps to bolster and grow the group even more.”

To expand and energize an emerging leaders’ program, Dell and Eberlein say it helps to identify where there might be pain points or barriers to entry. NAMA made three key changes that could be replicated by other associations:

Easier application process. Start by searching for simple fixes. For instance, NAMA’s program used to require young members to complete a paper application to join— “a cumbersome process,” Dell says, “that [young members] helped bring us along” to change.

Now, NAMA uses a digital form that takes about a minute to complete, and it’s easy to share online, which Eberlein says has helped with word-of-mouth recruitment. “A lot of our referrals come from peer-to-peer recommendations,” she says.

Elevated visibility. Don’t let an emerging leaders group limit itself to providing easy engagement opportunities like networking happy hours. While networking is important, look for ways to drive a higher level of engagement with your organization.

“We’ve found a way to integrate our emerging leaders into events and advocacy work,” Eberlein says. “It’s not only a great opportunity for them to work on their public-speaking skills, but they also get to bring new ideas forward as part of an educational component.”

ELN members organize sessions for both NAMA’s tradeshow and its Washington, DC, fly-in. Another approach could be to host an entire conference led by young members.

Role in governance. Finally, ELN is embedded in NAMA’s governance structure. “Each committee has to have at least one ELN [member] to participate,” Eberlein says. “This is not only a great way for young members to gain exposure to more seasoned members, but it’s also a way to test the waters of volunteering down the line.”

This approach also a way for young members to cultivate a set of leadership competencies, from hard skills like strategic planning to soft skills like emotional intelligence and consensus-building.

Do you have an emerging leaders’ group that’s thriving? How do you engage its members in meaningful ways and prepare them to be future leaders? Post your comments below.

Members of NAMA’s Emerging Leaders Network, shown at a legislative fly-in event. (Handout photo)

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

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!