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Listening for Success: Knowing what young professionals want

Minnesota Optometric Association – Save the Associations Vol. 2

Three years ago the Minnesota Optometric Association (MOA) revamped their strategic plan. When reviewing the research that would inform the new plan, they were both enlightened and scared by the statistics on their membership demographics.

The research revealed that a large number of members were nearing the end of their careers; if MOA wanted to continue to have an association, they would need younger members.

The Creation of Young ODs

MOA adapted quickly to the news of their aging association by creating the Young OD (Young Optometrists) program with a long range goal of engaging and retaining this population through their ascending years and beyond.

Starting with their first networking event, MOA has been learning that attracting a new generation requires more than just adding “Young Professionals” to the event title. To successfully attract young professionals, you need to listen to them to understand what they want. One stand out example of adapting to younger generations is the timing of events. For most MOA events, the standard time is a middle of the week evening, but when the association consulted the Young ODs they shared they would be more likely to show up on a Monday or Friday.

The Success of Young ODs

Not only has MOA gained younger members with the Young OD initiative, but there have been additional benefits on the local and national level.

Community Support

When reaching out to sponsors for the Young OD events, MOA realized they had created something many businesses needed – an opportunity to reach young professionals. Like associations, businesses are struggling to reach the younger generations; businesses understand the importance of being able to sponsor these events.

Also like associations, these sponsors have had to adapt. They have learned that the younger generations do not respond to them coming in and talking at the group. To engage these professionals, sponsors have to create 2-way conversations through roundtable-style discussions or something more interactive than a PowerPoint presentation.

Young Board Members

As of May 2018, 4 out of 10 MOA board members are under the age of 40. MOA is recognizing the importance of multi-generation representation. The younger generations bring fresh insights to the board, and the Baby Boomers are able to pass down their invaluable knowledge and experience. In fact, the MOA board has reserved a non-voting seat for past presidents to lend historical knowledge and advice.

National Young ODs

MOA’s Young OD program has been such a success that when their national organization created a young professionals pilot program they chose Minnesota to be one of the two pilot states. The national pilot was turned into an official program with most affiliate associations now having a Young OD program.

The Future of Young ODs

The success of the Young OD program has positioned itself for continued growth. A defining characteristic of the younger generations is their lack of patience; they have grown up receiving instant feedback on everything from video games to school exams. This lack of patience does not mix well with the legislative process that has a large impact on the optometric profession and advocacy, which is a key component of MOA.

The next big move for the Young OD program is to introduce legislative workshops to help the younger members understand the timelines and the processes.

Advice for Other Associations

In addition to listening to the younger generations about what they want, MOA’s advice for other associations is to actively reach out to young professionals. Instead of just asking for volunteers, ask current members to nominate the ‘shining stars’ they know from work or networking. This kind of recruiting is more likely to bring quantity and quality to your young professionals program.


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