Last week I spoke for two associations in Washington, D.C. – the National Fraternal Congress of America and General Federation of Women's Clubs. Both of these associations are concerned about their aging memberships. Like most associations out there they are agonizing over the fact they can’t get the younger generations involved as members, much less as leaders and volunteers.The fact is younger generations are willing to lead and volunteer, and the ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership's new study, The Decision to Volunteer: Why People Give Their Time and How You Can Engage Them, Generations X and Y association members are slightly less engaged than older association members as volunteers, but actually believe more strongly in the importance of volunteering.I would argue that Xers and Ys are less engaged simply because associations haven't figured out how to engage them.For example, I'm not surprised that two-thirds of the 26,305 members who participated in the study said they look for opportunities to connect volunteering to their professional development. Xers and Ys in particular want to know how their participation in an association (or as an employee in a business, for that matter) is going to benefit them personally, professionally, and benefit their community. That's their three-way test before engaging in anything.The associations that consider these criteria, develop actual benefits and outcomes to being engaged as a leader or volunteer, and then actively market those benefits and outcomes will stand a better chance of engaging younger generations.I'm also not surprised the study suggests volunteers at all levels want recognition and support of their efforts. Younger generations will disengage from those things they feel powerless to influence or for which they receive no recognition.Historically, associations have been very hierarchical – celebrating years of membership and service and focusing on the 'big hitters' sitting on the board and leading committees. But an association doesn't rely solely on board members and committee chairs. An association needs membership recruiters, ambassadors, mentors, fundraisers, event planners, and so on and so forth.Xers and Ys are changing the workforce with their tendencies towards teamwork, collaboration, mentoring, mutual respect and rewards. This is making business less about preserving seniority and more about fostering relationships and the same changes are occuring in associations.Like it or not, these generations were raised to value relationships, inclusion, and diversity. They are the most nurtured and provided for generations in history. They expect associations to make a place for them at the decision-making table; they expect to be invited to get involved; and they want recognition and support every step of the way.There are associations out there that believe their efforts to reach younger members have been fruitless and that younger generations pose a great challenge to their futures.I would argue that younger generations pose a great opportunity — if you only take the time to understand them.
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