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Convincing NextGen Members to Binge on Your Organization

Updated: Mar 30

Take a moment to think about your favorite television show. What genre does it fall under? What is it about the show that keeps drawing you back for just one more episode? I’d like you to also consider how you watch the show. Perhaps you record it, or maybe you stream it through a virtual platform. Growing up, MTV was the thing to watch. Not only was it on 24/7, but it offered programming that aligned closely with my interests and was readily available for viewing, which kept me tuning in for more.

MTV came onto the scene in 1981, during a major social and cultural shift that would impact generations for decades to come. This channel was part of a much larger development: broadcast cable TV. The launch of broadcast cable television in the early 1980s ushered in a new era of unprecedented customization and globalization. Suddenly, channels were tailored to a viewer’s interests, and network ratings dictated when and how often a show was aired. Live news coverage from across the world began to flood into the homes of anyone who owned a television set, exposing them to current events taking place on a global scale. It may sound unusual, but the dawn of cable television and your membership association share more in common than you may realize.

Research shows that brain development has evolved over the past several decades and it is no coincidence that television has played a role. Today’s younger generations are visual learners who have been conditioned to crave information that is easily accessible, on-demand, and instantaneous. I like to refer to it as an “edutainment” mentality. Your NextGen members want the same type of experience when it comes to their membership – one where opportunities and choices are readily available and at their fingertips.

Over the course of my career, I’ve uncovered several misconceptions that pertain to membership organizations. One of the most shocking sentiments I’ve heard regularly is that young people don’t join associations. I am here to debunk this “membership myth,” and get you back on track with young member engagement. To do so, we need to first go back in time and get a better understanding of how this negative mindset started.

In the early 20th century, young people would join associations because it was a social expectation. An unwritten social rule existed, where once you reached adulthood, becoming part of an organization within your community or industry was considered the natural and “appropriate” thing to do. The decades that followed were marked by significant economic, political, and social change. This led to a major shift in expectations and attitudes about membership. What was once considered an appropriate step in someone’s career was now irrelevant.

The cycle of engagement also evolved. Back then, newer members were relegated to the sidelines, sitting back and observing. There was a tacit implication that young people had to “pay their dues,” putting in the time with the association before they could take on a leadership role. You had to earn your voice before you got a seat at the table, but that wallflower model has since changed.

As evidenced by history, much of the shift in NextGen values and interests is a product of change. To stay relevant, associations must change how they recruit – and retain – young members. The next generation of individuals coming down the pipeline are careful, conscientious consumers who are much more aware of their options and enjoy having choices. In essence, this demographic wants access to more because they’ve grown up with access to more. It may be time to consider whether your association needs to update its offerings and approach to NextGen membership. In my research, I’ve found that there are three things that young people consistently want out of an association:

They want to be invited to join.

Young professionals want to be personally invited to your organization – preferably by a peer or someone they admire in the industry. This caters directly to their desire for customization and a more personalized membership experience.

They want to feel like they belong – immediately.

Belonging, by definition, gives an individual a sense of ownership and a secure relationship in something. New members don’t always feel that connection, however, and it drives them away from many organizations. Membership associations need to regularly review their inclusion practices and consider what they can be doing to make new members feel like they are valued members of their community as soon as they walk through the door.

They want opportunities to get involved.

As soon as your newer members feel an emotional connection to your association, they will be more willing to volunteer their time, energy, and resources. Give younger members the chance to share new ideas and the opportunity to lead. Create space for them at the table, where their voice can be heard

The next time you hear, “young members aren’t joiners,” I want you to think again. If younger generations of members aren’t joining your association, consider it a sign to look inward. It’s time to get to work and make intentional decisions that will engage NextGen members, and ultimately, propel your organization into the future.

Ready to start engaging your younger membership audience? Reach out to us for resources and member-focused strategies to propel your organization forward.


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