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Change Or Die: Sarah Sladek's Interview With Vm Magazine In Holland

The following is an abridged version of an interview with XYZ University CEO Sarah Sladek that first appeared in VM magazine. Jeanne Hoogers, chief editor for VM magazine sat down with Sarah during her recent trip to the Netherlands where she “GenY-ed” the Dutch association professionals with an interactive presentation.

The following is an abridged version of an interview with XYZ University CEO Sarah Sladek that first appeared in VM magazine. Jeanne Hoogers, chief editor for VM magazine sat down with Sarah during her recent trip to the Netherlands where she “GenY-ed” the Dutch association professionals with an interactive presentation.

You warn associations to change or die. What kind of associations are going to die?

Sarah Sladek: The ones that have members with an average age of 58. It does not matter if this is an association specifically for senior citizens. You have to change because the future senior citizens expect something else. For every member that’s 60 (Baby Boomer) you have to have one who is 40 (Gen X-er) and you must know how to get one who is 20 (Gen Y). You have to offer something that is unique,–nobody else can offer that too, it is for members only, it solves an important problem for them and it offers a positive experience of being a member of the association.

The same is true for trade-associations. Members may be companies and organizations, but they really are people, and too often these people are only Baby Boomers.

Often advocacy is an important part of what the association does. Gen Y grew up with  Free Willy, so they know that too. How is advocacy different for Millennials?

Sarah Sladek: True, but Millennials do not want to pay for advocacy all the time. And they have a different view on advocacy. You have to reinvent your lobbying strategies; make it more grassroots and make the results more visible. Show Gen Y how it benefits them.

What is your advice for Gen Y?

Sarah Sladek: Try to learn from the Baby Boomers – who are now in the top of the association –  as much as you can and as fast as you can. Try to be patient, it takes time to get experienced. Use your education and knowledge; this goes for young association members as well as young association professionals. As we experienced during the workshops in Holland, Gen Y brings with them their typical opinions and solutions; but they cannot change the association on their own. It’s important to learn to work together.

So you have to have a mix of generations working together. How do you do that?

Sarah Sladek: Yes, you have to mix. It can seem to be a good idea to let the younger ones have their own separate committees or boards, but what happens when someone wants to step over to the ‘adults’ side?  You have to find a way to make the generations work together on your boards and staff. If you don’t do that, the young generations will start an alternative association of their own. In my view you can bring in diversity by taking the generation shift seriously. Associations do differ enormously on this. Some still have to get used to having a woman on the board. But for Gen Y, diversity is normal. There are a lot of good practices in mixing the generations.

In the end it all boils down to change or die. If you do not have the generations, you cannot mix them. Start finding out what your association has to offer to Gen Y engaged and what they have to offer the association.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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