11 Ways to Attract Younger Members

by Holly Duckworth

Have you ever asked yourself, “How can I attract younger professionals to the industry, and what can I do to get them involved?”

As an association consultant, I hear it all the time lately. Here’s my answer: Although elusive, younger members have not gone anywhere. They are sitting at their desks, working hard to keep their jobs. In some cases they are in libraries and home offices in search of the perfect job. Others are still in college, hoping the economy will turn around so they will have a job. In addition to job stability, young professionals are looking for something we are all looking for: a sense of purpose and belonging. This is exactly what you can give them.

Here are 11 things you can do to recruit, retain, and maintain younger professionals into your organization.

1. Co-create the association experience with them

Younger members generally don’t like being told what to do and how to act. Allow younger members to lead. Work with a few key existing younger volunteers and ask them how they want to interface with your association. Then work with them to create a member value program that may look a little different than it did a few years ago. As an association, be willing to let go of programs that will not serve your new dynamic and energetic membership.

2. Go social and create a place for conversation

Association executives must realize that although younger members do love technology, what they specifically love is the 24/7 access to your association that technology enables. Build programs that blend together the power of technology and the power of the personal. This means social networking online and, sometimes, in person.

For example, the National Speakers Association has a group called XY that has become the avenue by which members representing the X and Y generations can engage in online and, occasionally, face-to-face conversations relevant to speakers in the business. The entire program is led by key volunteers who liaison with association staff. Many younger members of the Speakers Association will tell you the number-one value they get from membership is not at the local chapter or even national; it comes from the 24/7 access they get to like-minded professionals in the XY Facebook group and the face-to-face gatherings of this unique population of younger speakers.

3. Keep it simple and fresh

Often more senior association executives believe they must have an elaborate campaign to recruit younger members. That may not be the case. The key to success is shorter messages, in the spirit of Twitter’s 140-character limit, that facilitate an ongoing dialogue. Don’t just spout out your value proposition over and over; instead create opportunities for young professionals to interact with you.

4. Raise awareness of your purpose and mission

At the St. Louis airport, Rotary International signs pepper the walls. For this network of 34,000 community-based service clubs, Rotary’s ads feature young members who are spending time helping others, not wasting time in an airport. What a brilliant use of traditional media and an interesting way to recruit younger members. Rotary knows that younger professionals are often the ones in the most travel-intensive roles and are sitting in airports often longing for the connection of other like-minded professionals. Find the unique places your younger members frequent, and develop a plan to market to them there.

5. Provide amazing content geared to younger professionals

Aside from attracting young real estate professionals to the association, why not start earlier and attract young professionals to real estate? Take a cue from the Indiana Association for Home & Hospice Care, the voice of Indiana’s home care providers. They launched an intensive two-day classroom experience called Home Care 101, directed at people interested in starting home care agencies. The tuition was applied to the first year of association membership, bringing new blood into the organization.

6. Recognize young members

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers established a young engineers chapter to help recognize, support, and promote the participation of young professional members. Any current member who is 35 years or younger is automatically considered a young engineers chapter member and encouraged to participate in leadership programs and networking. By getting involved now, these younger members are more likely to remain active in the industry, and to become successful and influential leaders.

7. Get involved at high schools and universities

More colleges and universities in the United States offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in real estate than ever before. As many associations have found, students can be a dynamic and influential membership segment.

For example, in the past 12 years, the American Health Information Management Association’s student membership has grown from 5,000 to more than 17,000 students. The association recognizes that today’s student members are the future leaders of both the profession and the association. The association’s new student advisory councils work to promote the development of student membership at campuses across the country and add to the educational experience, not only by generating enthusiasm about the industry, but also by providing a forum in which students can gather, share ideas, and connect to the profession outside of their mandatory coursework.

8. Offer sage advice and mentoring

Sometimes to get younger members involved, you have to get older members involved. Mentor match making between seasoned pros and less experienced members is a powerful draw. One-on-one advice from seasoned industry veterans is one of your association’s most valuable assets, and you can offer it to newer members for free.

For example, the Incentive Research Foundation posts online audio recordings of members answering an important industry-related question. The recordings are two to three minutes long and can be shared on all social media, with a “contact me” option. This not only showcases the deep pool of wisdom among the foundation’s seasoned membership, but also opens a dialogue between prospective and current members.

9. Give a break on the dues

When students and younger members are entering a profession, many of them are earning low incomes, closing fewer sales, and just learning to be responsible for the bills of daily life. Consider building stair-step membership pricing that allows your members to integrate dues into their financial plans.

10. Be casual and fun

To keep members engaged, you need to be a place not only for work, but for fun as well. Many associations are adding in after-hours networking so that young single members can get to know each other. Also try family events where members can bring their kids and spouses. Charity events, too, can be fun as well as productive.

11. Establish a personal connection

I am a member of five associations. When I think about which associations I’ve chosen to join, it’s always the ones that asked me what I want. It’s the ones that presented what they could offer in a simple and affordable way. Provide relevant content and tell me how it will advance my career, and you’ve got a member for life.

Holly Duckworth, CAE, CMP, founded Leadership Solutions International (leadershipsolutionsintl.com), which provides speaking, coaching, and training for organizations worldwide on the future of effective leadership and volunteerism.

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