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News: Associations News

New Generation, New Rules – Millennials Impact How Associations Run

05 May 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Katie Spackman
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According to the Office for National Statistics, 600,000 people retire each year in England.  The Census Bureau reports that an average of 10,000 Boomers are retiring every day in the United States, and for the the first time in 34 years, Baby Boomers are no longer the workforce majority: it is now the Millennials, also known as Generation Y (1982 - 1995).

Quite frankly, this generation has been difficult to engage because the traditional membership doesn’t meet their values. This generation is introducing an entirely new value system to the marketplace as the first generation of the post-Industrial Era.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the most dramatic shifts taking place in the marketplace today, and what these shifts mean for associations:

Ownership vs. Access

After defining ourselves for centuries by possessions—cars, houses, china, stocks, land, and jewelry—what matters to Millennials is not so much ownership as access. The pressure is on for associations to deliver continued, quick, and easy access to new information, valuable services and products, meaningful relationships, and experiences that deliver a real return on investment. In fact, associations may need to move away from the concept of a year-round membership which implies ‘ownership’ more than access.

Community vs. Globalization

Older generations are more likely to define community as knowing your neighbors and participating in an association’s event, whereas Millennials think of community as having access to and interacting with a global network via social media. Globalization is something earlier generations could only consider in abstract terms; Millennials have always lived it. As a result, some question why associations have chapters, not seeing the need to be organized by geography and desiring the option to be organized by common interests instead. 

Advocacy vs. Social Awareness

Millennials don’t believe advocacy is something they can positively influence, but they do consider themselves activists. They are very socially aware and frequently cite improving education, ending poverty, and saving the environment as their top concerns. Millennials are more likely to buy products that support sustainable farming or fair trade, and 85% link commitment to a cause to their purchasing decisions. Associations will need to reconsider their approach to advocacy, likely by educating and empowering Millennials via grassroots activism.

Status vs. Inclusion

No longer is all the wisdom contained within the eldest population. The hierarchical, homogenous leadership model survived for centuries, but it is no longer relevant or sustainable. Millennials are the most diverse generation, the best educated, and the first to have more women than men obtain postsecondary credentials. Corporations with diverse leadership are considerably more profitable than companies with homogenous leadership. Associations need to follow suit, reformatting boards to allow for the participation of members from all ages and backgrounds.Jobs vs. Entrepreneurs

In recent years, more workers have detached from conventional 9-to-5 jobs to take on contract work and other short-term gigs. Add to that the widespread demand for flextime and increasing number of start-up businesses, one can quickly surmise that the entire workforce is moving towards an entrepreneurial mindset. Associations need to reconsider their member benefits as well as the length of membership. After all, if you juggle responsibilities or change jobs often, you may not have the time or affinity to a profession to want to join an association.

Control vs. Freedom

Associations were founded on the premise that certain rules needed to be followed and traditions upheld. Everything ran according to expectations, process, and hierarchy, leaving little room for innovation or change. However, there’s been more technology developed in the last five years than the last 50. From that perspective alone, it’s obvious associations have to forego operating in a controlled environment and be open to new ideas emerging everywhere, from everyone.

Take note: The behaviors and choices of younger generations have historically been an indicator of future workplace, consumer, and economic trends. Membership isn’t the exception to that rule. The trends and influences introduced and shaped by the post-Industrial generations are having a ‘trickle-up’ effect – changing the value of membership and expectations of the membership experience for every generation.

In other words, if membership is declining in value for Millennials, soon it will decline in value for all generations.

This may sound ominous, but it marks the beginning of unparalleled opportunity for those associations willing to embrace change and innovate. You can choose to see this shift as a challenge or an opportunity. In either case, it’s your association’s legacy, so choose wisely.

Sarah L. Sladek is the CEO of XYZ University, a leadership consulting firm based in the United States. She’s authored three books for Association Management Press. Her latest book is titled, Talent Generation: How Visionary Organizations Are Redefining Work and Achieving Greater Success.


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