How Associations Can Attract Younger Members

Young professional associations members do some online networking.

Associations are Struggling to Attract Younger Members

56% of associations report having trouble engaging young professionals. Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) are the largest generation in the workforce and will account for 75% of the labor market by 2030.

It’s smart then for professional associations to start brainstorming and strategizing ways to develop or redefine their value propositions to appeal to millennials and Gen Z (1997-2012). Millennials are attracted to organizations and brands that are transparent, and trustworthy, aim to help society, and foster professional growth and personal connections. This post will provide professional associations with five ways to court younger members and actionable tips they can use to get the ball rolling.

Table of Contents

  • Create a Value Proposition that Appeals to Younger Generations
  • Authentically Embrace and Showcase a Commitment to DEI
  • Embrace Technology
  • Invite Involvement
  • Give Members Something to Share
  • Give Us Feedback
  • Related Resources

Five Ways Associations Can Engage More Young Professionals 

Create a Value Proposition that Appeals to Younger Generations

Studies show that young professionals who joined associations don’t feel like they get a strong return on investment (ROI), with only 40% saying their experience was worth membership dues. Additionally, 2 out of 5 millennials say they have no idea how being in an association would benefit them. 

Associations need to either A) communicate their member benefits better or B) reimagine their members' benefits to appeal to what young professionals seek. Naylor’s Association Communications Benchmarketing Survey found that millennials specifically value:

  • Social and professional networking. 
  • Personal branding and growth.
  • Community outreach. 
  • Educational and professional resources. 
  • Gaining new skills.
  • Finding satisfying, well-paying jobs.  

Your association should brainstorm ways you can meet all of these values in meaningful ways. Here are some ideas:

  • Have weekly/monthly/quarterly in-person or online networking events, create Facebook or LinkedIn groups, highlight member insights (along with ways to connect to said members) in a monthly newsletter, or hold in-person summits/retreats. 
  • Hold webinars with personal branding experts related to your field or industry, have your marketing team create a downloadable guide to “Creating Your Personal Brand,” or provide opportunities for members to share their thought leadership (and thus, add to and/or create a portfolio showcasing their personal brand). 
  • Partner with like-minded non-profits, help connect members to local schools or organizations where they can give back, create group volunteer opportunities, or hold member meet and greets at local businesses. 
  • Offer certifications, include a databank of professional resources in your member portal or website, or hold webinars where current members discuss their career trajectories.  
  • Offer in-person or online classes, feature a “weekly skill” in your newsletter or social media, or share how the most sought-after soft skills pertain to your field or industry. 
  • Create an association job board, a members mentoring program, or hold members-only job fairs. 

Communicating the value proposition is a challenge for many associations. We cover how to overcome that obstacle and offer solutions to four other common association challenges in our post Five Association Challenges and How to Solve Them.

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Authentically Embrace and Showcase a Commitment to DEI

Millennials prefer organizations that embrace diversity and inclusion, but with Gen Z predicted to have a non-white majority by 2026, they don’t just prefer DEI-centric organizations, they expect them. Still, the Economic Impact on Associations report found that 35% of surveyed associations report they don’t consider DEI a priority. 

What are some ways associations can meaningfully embrace DEI? 

  • Ensure inclusion plays a big part of your brand or mission statement. 
  • Use inclusive language, be respectful when using members’ pronouns, and audit your membership requirements to ensure they aren’t arbitrarily disqualifying anyone. 
  • Hold panels, webinars, or courses on DEI-centric topics. 
  • Write about DEI in your blog content, newsletters, and social media. Make it explicitly clear you welcome everyone in your organization. 
  • Include members from diverse backgrounds and experiences in your association's decisions, leadership, and strategizing sessions. 
  • Regularly ask for member feedback and input, and keep an open mind when considering said input. 
  • Help your members better understand how they can foster more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces through educational content ranging from webinars to guides. 

We’ve created The HiringThing Guide to DEI Recruiting to help professionals plan their recruiting strategies through a more DEI-centric lens. Feel free to link to or share this with your association members!

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Embrace Technology

Gen Z and millennials are digital natives—they essentially grew up online. 85% of millennials have a social media profile, and 92% own a smartphone. Yet, only 12% of associations identified digital marketing as the top strategy for recruiting new members.

Showcasing that you embrace technology isn’t only pertinent to marketing to younger generations but keeping them around once they’re members. Ensure that your website is up-to-date, you have active, meaningful social media channels, and that you’re offering member benefits that utilize the technology young professionals expect. You can showcase your tech-savviness by:

  • Having a user-friendly online members’ portal. 
  • Utilizing video-content. It’s how today’s consumers want to learn new information! 
  • Ensuring all your content is mobile-friendly—half of all web traffic is accessed via smartphone.
  • Invest in creating a digital marketing strategy. 
  • Have learning and development initiatives centered around new technology platforms or tech-friendly skills. 
  • Ask members what technology solutions they’re craving!

HiringThing is a private-label applicant tracking system (ATS), recruiting software that automates and streamlines the hiring process. Hiring is a big professional concern for many of your members and the organizations they work for. You can check out our post, Ten Reasons Associations Can Benefit from a Private Label ATS, to learn more about how a private label ATS is an innovative association member benefit. 

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Invite Involvement

A survey from the Association Innovation Benchmarking Report showed that while most associations identified an email welcome as an essential part of onboarding and showing value to new members, less than half included an invitation to join the association’s online community, professional network, or leadership team in any sort of meaningful way. 

The younger generation wants to actively participate in the direction and leadership of things they’re involved with, and associations are no different. 

  • Regularly survey your members to see how they’re feeling about the association’s direction and the ROI of their membership. 
  • Create several committees members can join (DEI, Learning and Development, Community Outreach, Giving Back, Social) and communicate in your welcome package what each entails and how members can meaningfully contribute. 
  • Create an open line of communication between your members and leadership, and take time to answer questions and consider suggestions that come your way. 
  • Regularly invite members to participate in panels, webinars, or networking events.
  • Ask for help from your members to create educational collateral ranging from blog posts to online guides. 
  • Hold orientations for new members to learn more about the association and meet one another. 

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Give Them Something to Share

If you’re not utilizing social media in a meaningful way, you’re missing out on a whole slate of young professionals. As of January 2022, there are 3.96 billion social media users. Millennials spend an average of 2 hours and 38 minutes daily on social media, while Gen Z spends 2 hours and 55 minutes. Most importantly, consumers are six times more likely to make a purchase from an organization with an active social media presence. 

  • Social media users overwhelmingly trust other users when it comes to spending their money, so help your current members spread the word! Create a guide for talking about your brand on social media.
  • Create one or two association-specific hashtags your members can use to showcase how they utilize your member benefits.
  • Have your social media channels be an essential part of your onboarding, welcome email, or orientation. Let members know you’ll be sharing valuable, shareable content created specifically for them.
  • Interact with your members on social media—like, share, comment on, and repost pertinent member-created content that showcases your brand, their thought leadership, and examples of member value. 
  • Take advantage of member live chats on your social media channels or let vetted members do social-media channel takeovers.

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Let Us Know How You've Attracted Younger Members

Are you an association that’s had luck attracting more younger professionals? Let us know in the comments what’s worked for you. 

Related Resources

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