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Generation Y
Guest Posts

7 Ways To Engage Gen Y With Your Association

As XYZ University CEO Sarah Sladek said in her recent whitepaper “Engaging Young Generations,“: If we fail to engage Generation Y, we prepare to fail.

As XYZ University CEO Sarah Sladek said in her recent whitepaper “Engaging Young Generations,“:

If we fail to engage Generation Y, we prepare to fail.

It is such a simple statement, but extremely powerful. Sarah’s research and interviews with several organizations shows that if an association is going to continue to exist, we do not have much time to make significant shifts in how we engage the next generation of leaders – through programs, events and other outreach.

According to the 2013 Pulse Report, only 23.6% of association have a plan in place to engage Generation Y.  So, what could your association be doing?

Here are seven examples of ways I have seen organizations succeed at engaging Generation Y:

1. Give them a seat at the table

If you want to ensure that your association continues to succeed, you need to recognize that your board cannot solely consist of members from the Baby Boomer generation. They may have done their research on how to engage Generation Y, but who is better to provide feedback on what your organization should strategically be doing with their marketing, communication, advocacy and other activities in the future? The generation you are trying to attract to survive. Seek out a member from this generation (at a minimum), and give them a seat at the table.

2. Mentor them

Research has shown that Generation Y is looking to Boomers for their experience, so that they can develop their career paths. What better way to make that connection then offering a mentorship program within your organization? A committee could be formed, and a guide to the program can be easily developed through online resources. Speaking from experience, this does not take a lot of time to put together, and certainly does not take hundreds of man-hours to manage.

3. Offer a Young Professionals Program

Create a group of Young Professionals that gather together to address key issues that will help them move forward in their careers.  Developing education that will help them move from junior-level management positions to Senior Managers, Directors, and C-Suite Executives will be perceived as very beneficial.

4. Networking

It has been said that it cannot be positioned as a member benefit, and I tend to agree to a certain point. However, if done properly, networking can still draw a much younger crowd. This can be done around your conference, or perhaps on its own. There are several companies that exist who hold multi-day conferences that draw several hundred from the Under 30 crowd. Why? Because their entertainment is relevant, their programming style is interactive, and they offer the technology that keeps their delegates engaged.

If you are not prepared to completely re-vamp your conference structure, you could start small – host a pub night, which will draw all generations from your membership and instead of having a speaker who talks at them for over an hour, have multiple speakers that address an issue within 10-15 minutes (think Ted Talks).

5. Give them community space online

Your CRM/CMS should be online, and offer a private community online to ensure that your members have the space to engage, communicate and meet other members in a space that is just for them, on their own time.

  1. Create the proper communications strategy. Instead of newsletters, perhaps blogs are the way to go. Other than online communities, possibilities to consider are text messaging, instant messages, Google+, Facebook, Twitter (and the list goes on)…are you communicating with Generation Y in the method they prefer?
  2. Offer new services. This does not have to be difficult. Structure your conference to add services that would be interesting to the next generation of leaders; a résumé building workshop, mock interview sessions, career planning workshops, and perhaps a career corner that would allow recruiters within your industry to offer on the spot interviews for next-level positions.

Ultimately, you have to step back and assess what Gen Y needs from you within your industry. Do your research. Everything you do should be about getting them involved; their time is precious, and they will give it to you; you just have to give them a reason to.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

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