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Meaningful Engagement: Creating membership value for younger generations

American Water Works Association – Save the Associations Vol. 10

“Try things, give them a real chance, assess the results, and tweak your strategy,” advised Susan Franceschi, Chief Membership Officer at the American Water Works Association (AWWA). “Don’t make perfect be the enemy of good.”

Franceschi and her team are committed to their goal of bringing the younger generations into the association and know that success does not come from simply talking about their ideas in meetings. They know success does not come from postponing a program or event until they are 100% certain it is flawless.

They know success does come from understanding that you can only plan so much and you have to just start doing something to see what works, what doesn’t, and where you can improve next time.

This open-minded approach to engaging the younger generations has resulted in flexible and adaptable student and young professional programing that has positively affected AWWA membership. The association has not experienced the membership aging issue; the average age of AWWA members has not been increasing like it has at so many other associations.

What Has Worked for AWWA

Commitment to engaging the younger generations has not been limited to Franceschi and her team. “Our whole association is aligned on this,” shared Franceschi. “People are enthusiastic about engaging young professionals.” Due to this commitment and enthusiasm, young professionals speak highly of their experience at AWWA. Below are just a few of the many opportunities given to AWWA students and young professionals.

  1. Committee Involvement 

AWWA encourages committees to involve the younger generations. Our students and young professionals help improve the committee by sharing their unique insights, and they get the chance to feel ownership of a project within the association.

  1. Call for Papers

AWWA students and young professionals want to submit papers for association conferences, but the normal submission timeline of 8+ months ahead of the conference was too early for many of them. To accommodate, AWWA now has a “Late Breaking Call for Papers.” AWWA reserves several slots for young professional papers that are submitted approximately two months before the conference.

  1. Conference Mentors

Students and young professionals have the opportunity to be matched with a more senior AWWA member for the annual conference. Senior members guide young professionals through the conference experience and introduce them to other members.

Where AWWA Wants to Improve

AWWA always has new ideas in development to continue engaging the younger generations. “We are not finished,” said Franceschi. “We have a lot of other opportunities for improving.”

New initiatives include:

  1. Creating transitional memberships that help student members seamlessly become young professional members.

  2. Tailoring messaging to be more fun and relatable.

  3. Improving communication through technology (for example, using texting to engage members).

Advice for Other Associations

Throughout every AWWA idea and initiative for students and young professionals, there is one clear trend – meaningful engagement; every idea and every initiative is created to bring some degree of value to the young professionals.

“You have to think about meaningful engagement,” advises Franceschi. “Younger professionals are committed and work hard, but they won’t be interested in doing something just for the token experience. An opportunity has to reach a high-level of importance for them to be engaged.”

Contact us at Sarah Sladek & Co to learn more about meaningful engagement.


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