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Generation Y

Starting The New Year Off Right: Next Generation Association Ideas

It’s a new year, and that means your association needs to focus even more on next generation planning. The workforce is getting older and we’re running out of time to plan for the largest shift in human capital this country has ever seen. By next year, the majority of the workforce will be in their 20s, and that means 2014 is the time to come up with ideas for how your association will adjust and engage the next generation of members.

It’s a new year, and that means your association needs to focus even more on next generation planning. The workforce is getting older and we’re running out of time to plan for the largest shift in human capital this country has ever seen. By next year, the majority of the workforce will be in their 20s, and that means 2014 is the time to come up with ideas for how your association will adjust and engage the next generation of members.

This issue affects all associations across every industry, so you certainly are not alone. Good news is you have the opportunity to get ideas from membership associations who are already doing a great job of engaging the next generation. One of those associations is the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), an educational organization for K-12 school administrators about 15,000 members strong.


In the last five years, ACSA has seen the number of retirements in the field rising as Baby Boomers are stepping down from leadership roles and allowing Gen Xers to take over. Sound familiar? Retirement and downturn in the economy made membership numbers for ACSA dip, but they are seeing a rise in membership and are working to increase those numbers by appealing to Generation Y. Margarita Cuizon, director of members services at ACSA states, “Our outreach to school administrators of the Millennial generation needed to be very intentional.” Even with rising membership numbers, they see their work to attract Gen Y to be “far from started.”


To reach Gen Y, ACSA created a partnership with a private industry also interested in reaching Millennials. With this corporate partnership, they were able to establish scholarships for Millennials to attend the ACSA Annual Leadership Summit free of charge. The Leadership Summit is primarily attended by Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, so attracting young leaders to the summit is an important goal for ACSA.

The scholarships were awarded to 19 young stars, chosen by local chapters. While at the summit, the 19 stars attended informative breakout sessions, participated in networking opportunities and gained local and statewide connections.


During the summit, ACSA hosted a luncheon for scholarship winners to give them an opportunity to engage directly with ACSA’s executive director in a casual conversation about how the association can better serve the next generation. Discussion at the luncheon included preference for peer-to-peer networking, receiving professional development, and membership engagement. Association leadership will take the ideas presented and use them for future membership marketing.


The 19 young stars were also asked to help with the association’s soft launch of a new mobile app. They were among the first to get to use the app, review it and give feedback on the app as the final touches were in development for the bigger launch. ACSA was able to get important feedback from Gen Y and involve them in a meaningful way. When the app was launched, they kept it fun by creating a scavenger hunt using QR codes and features of the mobile app. Small prizes were awarded for completing the hunt. The app launch was very successful.


While ACSA may not be able to give all their young leaders scholarships to attend the Leadership Summit for free, they do keep in touch with them and keep them involved via social media. During the Summit, hashtags, and even a booth, were set up to encourage sharing information about the event on Facebook and Twitter. Live tweets were shared on screens set up in the exhibit hall for all attendees to see and jump into the online conversation. Gen Y loved the attention and seeing their tweets on the big screen, and it encouraged even more social sharing. Attendees and others who were unable to make the summit could still participate in the event and help create a buzz about it online.


After the conference was over, ACSA kept in contact with their young stars, informing them about local networking opportunities, ways to get involved in organizational leadership and offering continued access to professional learning events.

Through the support of their corporate partnership, ACSA was able to create a first wave of Millennial ambassadors for their association. These young ambassadors will share their stories, and help ACSA grow.

If your association isn’t sure how to get started on a path to become a Next-Gen Association, if you’re looking for ideas on how to engage the next generation of members, take a page from ACSA’s playbook. They are doing a great job of getting Generation Y interested and engaged in future leadership of their association.

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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