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NextGen: Ready Or Not, Here They Come!

Are you a millennial?

In my work as a generational researcher, I’ve found there are two ways people typically react when faced with this question. If they are a millennial, they tend to reluctantly admit it as if they are embarrassed. If they aren’t, they emphatically exclaim, “No, thank goodness!” Both negative responses fascinate me because they are indicative of society’s attitudes towards this demographic. So, what was your response? Whether you’re a millennial or not, your organization’s future depends upon younger generations, so it’s time to adapt!

Millennials, or “Generation Y,” were born between 1981 and 1996. When they came of age, it was during an era of technological advancement and disruption. They are the largest generation in history (in addition to being the most researched), having been influenced by major economic and cultural events, including the 2008 financial crisis, the war on terror, and the dot com bubble – to name a few.

They grew up with unprecedented access to information – most of which was at their fingertips – and, as a result, are highly educated consumers and communicators. Their life experience is one that has been characterized by globalization, customization, and instant gratification. In short, Millennials are unique in many ways, and reaching them will require new and unique approaches that many associations have not yet mastered, let alone thought about.

“Unique” is often synonymous with “misunderstood.” Millennials are often the most misunderstood and criticized generation in history because they have ushered in an era of broad-scale change and innovation. When you think about it, Generation Y is the personification of change.

Let’s face it – change is uncomfortable. It pushes us, stretches us, and as a society, we’ve never been good at welcoming new ideas from younger generations. As the saying goes, “Kids these days…” – you fill in the blank. It’s a sentiment we hear with each passing generation that usually ends with:

“…they’re lazy!”

“…they’re entitled!”

“…they’re difficult to work with!”

“…they’re hard to reach!”

Unfortunately, age discrimination is alive and well.

Perhaps you’ve witnessed it firsthand within your own organization or have experienced it yourself. New research from NYU shows that workplace discrimination toward young people is at an all-time high. Resistant attitudes towards millennials have also been shown to contribute to turnover and membership decline. When you think about it, age discrimination is really the last accepted form of prejudice in our culture. As a society, we’ve made substantial strides when it comes to gender and racial discrimination, but age bias is thriving and could be plaguing your organization. 

As a membership association, your central goal is to create a sense of community, but how can that be accomplished if a specific population feels marginalized? It may be time to assess whether your association is guilty of labeling or excluding younger generations. To start, I urge you to look at your member base and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How many young people are in leadership positions?

  2. Are we actively inviting young people to participate in our association?

  3. Do millennials have a seat at the table, and more importantly, do they have a voice?

  4. Are young people regularly sharing new ideas, and are we receptive to them?

The recent pandemic has made millennials out of all of us to some degree. We were forced into a “new norm,” driven by virtual technology and on-demand programming. Whether we were ordering groceries online or joining seemingly never-ending Zoom calls, we had to adopt a Millennial mindset. Membership associations were forced to adapt as well by aligning with what was happening in the world. Prior to 2020, many associations weren’t even thinking about virtual, hybrid, or on-demand programming. Today, it’s become commonplace and is here to stay. 

If you are a millennial, you’re likely starting to experience effects from the next generation – Gen Z! This next generation, born between 1997 and 2012, has never known a world without mobile devices, streaming, and technology-based instruction. Research indicates that because of their exposure to technology from such a young age, their brains have actually developed differently than those of previous generations. They are highly visual, hands-on learners eager to make meaningful change and will look to join associations whose mission aligns with those values. Future generations are going to ask you, “What are you doing to make the world a better place for my generation and future generations?”

I’ll pose the same question again: are you a Millennial? Maybe or maybe not, but regardless, we all need to adopt the mindset of our NextGen members. By opening the door and welcoming them to the table, your stakeholders – and association as a whole – will benefit.

Looking for more ways to modernize your organization? We can help. Let’s work together and bring your association into the future.


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