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Online Communities And Member Retention

The only way way your association is going to be able to retain members is by making them feel connected to you and by providing them value. Why else would they pay membership dues? If they can have the same experience elsewhere, there’s nothing to keep them from going elsewhere.

The only way way your association is going to be able to retain members is by making them feel connected to you and by providing them value. Why else would they pay membership dues? If they can have the same experience elsewhere, there’s nothing to keep them from going elsewhere.

According to the 2013 Membership Benchmarking Report, one of the top reasons people join associations is for networking opportunities. Your association can improve retention by helping members network better.

One of your biggest assets your association has is its members. They are valuable to you and to each other through the connections they make by belonging to the same association. Helping your members get to know and engage with each other will help to keep them all engaged with your association. One way to do that is by creating online communities for your membership.

Your members are tech savvy, especially Gen Y and Gen Z. They want to network when it’s most convenient for them. Here’s what else you need to know about creating online communities:


Online communities are a great way to crowdsource information, get answers to questions you might otherwise need to pay a consultant for. No one wants to give their expertise away for free, but an association’s online community is a trusted network of like-minded professionals who all have something to gain from collaborating. Making real-time anytime collaboration possible is not only convenient and nice, it’s a real cost savings for your members. That can go a long way in retaining members.

But that doesn’t happen overnight.


There are four things you need to consider before starting your online community:

  1. Will you build it or buy it? Building your own allows you to customize heavily, but buying ready to use software will get you going faster.
  2. How will you customize? Online communities shift and grow. As this happens, you may need to update your community. Even when buying software, consider future customized updates you may need to make.
  3. What’s the long-term goal? If you want your community to grow, it’s important to have a technology platform that allows for increased scale.
  4. How will you maintain the community? It’s important that you can keep track of what’s happening in your community easily and quickly. Choose technology that can offer ease of use for administrators.


Once you’ve invested your time and association dollars into building an online community, it would be a shame if no one used it. During your planning process you must consider how you will market your new community to members and entice them to join. You need to inspire them to interact and share valuable content. A thriving online community starts with an empty space, you need a plan for how you will fill that space. A dedicated community manager will be key in planting the seeds for a strong community.

Your members are valuable to you, and they can be valuable to each other. Let them see that value, and yours, by facilitating easy ways for them to get to know each other. The more they value each other, the more they value your association bringing them together.

Ready to jump in but not sure where to start? The Next Generation Association iPortal can help you capitalize on technology and build member value. Check it out!

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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