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Talent Development

Is Email Still A Valid Way To Engage Members?

Member engagement is such a buzz word these days. Associations are struggling to engage members, in an effort to retain current members, and be set up for success in the future. Email has become one of (if not “the”) simplest way to reach out to your community. You create a message and send it to hundreds (or thousands) of people in your network at a click of a button.

Member engagement is such a buzz word these days. Associations are struggling to engage members, in an effort to retain current members, and be set up for success in the future. Email has become one of (if not “the”) simplest way to reach out to your community. You create a message and send it to hundreds (or thousands) of people in your network at a click of a button.

It sounds easy, but is it engaging? The short answer is: It can be, if done properly.


One list for everything: Your association has a centralized list of varying member types, suppliers, outside stakeholders (including government bodies), and the general public/media who have expressed interest in your organization.Deploy one message for everyone:  Your communications department produces one message, which is generic, in hopes to appeal to everyone on your list. It does not get into specific interests, rather re-directs them to your website in hopes that they will find the information that is relevant to them.Send your emails on an “as needed” basis: Your list receives emails from you that are obviously planned, but there are too many that appear to be after thoughts, and they end up getting several emails from you per month (or, worse, per week).Little statistical information: Yes, you know how many people are opening your emails, and how many are clicking through, but you cannot differentiate what are unique vs. total opens or clicks. You also have no idea who is opening and clicking through, and which subject line worked best.No sharing capabilities: Your email (or, the articles within) have no sharing capabilities for social media, or forwarding to a colleague.

Do any of these sound familiar? If you are nodding your head in agreement to some of the above examples, let’s turn that around. Email is still a valid way to engage your members (yes, even the Millennials!) So, let’s think positive and look at what you can do instead.


1. Segment your lists

People have asked to be added to your list for different reasons. To engage by email, it is highly recommended that you understand their objectives for the relationship with your organization, and only send relevant information. That may be everything you have for one member, but only personal development credit courses for another. It’s better to understand upfront.

2. Tailor your messages

With your segmented list, you are able to do a better job developing the right message to send to each contact. It does not mean you have to re-invent the wheel for each email message, but developing a campaign around each segment will help you engage your Baby Boomer members in one way and your Gen Y members in yet another. Internship or emerging leader opportunities, for example, may be well-received by your Millennial members but your Boomer members probably don’t need to read that communication.

3. Be strategic with your communications plan

You cannot possibly foresee every single message that will need to be sent by your organization to your lists, but if you collaborate with all of your departments, you likely can account for over 80% of them. Messages that can be accounted for should be planned out on a content calendar at the beginning of the year–so that you know when they should be delivered, and you know that many of your members will not be frustrated with the number of emails received. That way, when there is a last-minute message to go out, your community will pay attention, instead of it being lost in the shuffle.

4. Make in-depth stats a priority

There are several email marketing and marketing automation programs out there that are ready to work for you (and, with you). Pick one that suits your budget, and provides you with the stats you are looking for. You should be able to track who is opening what email, clicking on what link, A/B test your message with different subject lines, and pull detailed reports on each message.

5. Make emails social

Adding social sharing buttons so that the recipient can share the article (or, entire email) as they see fit is imperative. It will expand your reach to the greater community, based on their network of followers. And, the social sharing options should be trackable through your stats.

Making these modifications to your association’s email strategy will ensure that your email efforts to members are not being wasted, ignored and under-valued by your community.

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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