Money & Business

Young People Don’t Trust Institutions. Here’s How Your Association Can Break Through the Trust Barrier.

By / Jul 29, 2021 (aga7ta/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Generation Z is wary of “fake news,” misinformation, and false advertising. Associations must demonstrate honesty and authenticity to connect with young members.

Between public health missteps, the visibility of police brutality, and the events surrounding January 6, Generation Z is entering the workforce at a time when our nation has suffered from institutional breaches of trust.

Their attitudes reflect this: Gen Z’s average trust rating for major institutions fell 10 percentage points across the board in just two months of 2020, and even in 2019, 24 percent of Generation Z said they had 0 percent trust in business leaders. For associations, this is a concern when it comes to attracting young members.

“When engaging with organizations and institutions, Gen Z leads with skepticism. They operate on the belief that trust should be earned, not assured,” says Phoebe Murray, director of strategic insights and communication at BridgeWorks, a talent firm with a generational focus.

Associations can connect with young members by demonstrating the kind of transparency and authenticity that rebuilds trust. Use these tips from Murray to develop trust with your Gen Z members.

Show, Don’t Just Tell

It’s clear that Gen Zers are strong advocates for corporate social responsibility. In your communications to members, you’ve probably made commitments to bolster DEI efforts, enact positive social change, and do work in the community. While it helps to get the word out, your young members will probably respond more to action and real-world examples of these efforts.

Has your organization recently implemented successful internal DEI efforts? Is your association holding charitable events and fundraisers in the near future? Let members know of these initiatives.

“Gen Z reserves their trust for organizations that share their values and illustrate those values through their actions,” Murray says. “They have a strong sense of social responsibility and expect organizations to demonstrate the same commitment to effect positive societal change.”

While you’re at it, you can ask some young members to lead or be a part of these initiatives, as Murray says Gen Zers are more trusting of their peers than of institutions.

Emphasize Transparency

Members of Gen Z focus on honesty and transparency, but the majority of them don’t believe brands deliver. And with such an awareness of “fake news,” they’re wary of misinformation and don’t buy into hype.

Instead of dressing up or sugar-coating something about your organization, be open and honest with members. This approach should start from the top: Give members ample opportunity to reach out to senior leaders in your organization. That way, the inner workings of your association don’t seem opaque and members get a sense for how decisions are made. Creating a member forum could provide Gen Zers with the platform they need to get involved.

“Gen Z doesn’t just want to see behind the curtain, they want to be backstage. Give Gen Z access,“ Murray says. “Provide a platform for them to ask questions, share their perspectives, and make their voices heard. Listen to their ideas, and let them be a part of the solution.”

Encourage Open and Inclusive Communication

“Don’t talk at Gen Z; talk with them,” Murray says. “Ensure that your communication takes into consideration Gen Z members’ perspectives and invites their feedback so they feel a part of the conversation.”

Gen Z looks for organizations to value their opinion, and they expect two-way dialogue. When communicating as an organization, seek out your members’ thoughts and invite them to provide feedback. Gen Z also has an expectation of inclusivity, so be sure to use inclusive language whenever communicating with members.

“Effectively communicating with Gen Z requires two-way dialogue,” Murray says. “Social media has given Gen Z a voice with brands, businesses, leaders, and society at large, and they expect organizations they engage with to extend the same invitation to join the conversation and share their perspectives.”


This is the first in our three-part series about Generation Z. Check out part 2, about online communities, and part 3, about making your values known to younger members.

Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. More »

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