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How To Engage Gen Y In Advocacy Efforts

Based on our recent advocacy in association survey results, it seems that many associations are not being realistic about where things are headed. Although most are concerned about the lack of participation by members under the age of 40, most associations also believe that they will be sustaining or growing advocacy efforts in the next 5-10 years. If that is to happen, we need a new approach.

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts around the topic of “Advocacy and Associations” that XYZ University will publish during the month of November.

Based on our recent advocacy in association survey results, it seems that many associations are not being realistic about where things are headed. Although most are concerned about the lack of participation by members under the age of 40, most associations also believe that they will be sustaining or growing advocacy efforts in the next 5-10 years. If that is to happen, we need a new approach.

You need to engage Gen Y.

Develop an engagement plan

Spend time thinking about how to engage Generation Y in purpose. Develop your position for why they should care about your efforts, why they should join and why they should even pay attention. Ultimately, you need to answer the question: Why should your members pay for your advocacy efforts?

Now, how will you disseminate this information?

Get involved where they are. Post and ask for feedback on social media channels. Solicit input and committee volunteer projects from young leaders in your association.

Set advocacy goals

Showing benefits of advocacy can be very difficult when the process is slow and results can take years. It’s no wonder that the instant gratification-seeking Gen Ys don’t see value in advocacy. Millennials expect things to happen quickly.

Evaluate your current state of advocacy. With 74% of associations stating they struggling with determining advocacy success and results, you need guidelines and benchmarks. If you can’t circle back and prove the positive (or negative) effects your advocacy has, why do anything? Determine if your current advocacy initiatives should be different. Don’t change strategies to achieve the same outcome; change the outcomes you’re seeking.

Think about your advocacy goals as they relate to your members in each stage of life. What is good for the Baby Boomers may be completely different from what your Millennials and Xers want. Categorize and prioritize.

Develop a measurable outcome plan

Associations need to make the issues they are advocating for immediate. Keep the reason fresh and meaningful so that your audience doesn’t forget that something important is at stake.

What is the problem you are trying to solve? Because there is a problem you are trying to solve, and no doubt many of your members have a personal connection to it, remind them. Show real life real time situations regarding the issue to keep momentum going.

Think about the recent election. During an election cycle, the only thing that most participants do is vote on a one specific day, however, campaigns keep the issues immediate and in front of voters to keep them engaged and interested.

Minnesotans United asked supporters to participate by sending photos of themselves in “Vote No” t-shirts that they are selling. Even the least active supporters of the cause are seeing photos of supporters popping up in their Facebook feeds. This keeps the issue in front of people with testimonials from those affected and information on grassroots successes, photos, ways Gen Y likes to get information.

Learn from the past

Studies show that direct contact by a peer increases the likelihood that young people will participate in the political process by voting. If they are more likely to vote with peer contact, they may be more willing to speak out on a committee of volunteers as well.

If associations can reach out to one Gen Y member, perhaps seeking out a young ambassador for the cause will help recruit others.

Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 was highly effective in getting younger generations involved in the political process. Associations could take some pointers from how he managed that.

The campaign didn’t just ask for volunteers, they made volunteers apply and go through an interview process. They required training before sending them out. This might sound like a lot of hassle, but Millennials want to be a part of the process, training appeals to them, requires them to buy in.

What the Obama campaign failed to do, however, is keep Gen Y participating after the election. If associations are going to continue to spend time and resources on advocacy and use it to recruit new members, they need to find a way to keep the momentum.

Not to be involved in the conversation, working collaboratively with an organization, maybe even government, goes against Gen Y values. And maybe this is a good sign. Gen Y wants to be listened to and taken seriously. For your associations to continue doing what it does, you need to show them that your association’s advocacy efforts are a viable way to do that.

 

A special thank you to Shannon Neeser, contributing researcher and Melissa Harrison, design, for their work on the 2012 Advocacy in Associations Survey report.

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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