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Gen Y Wants “Meaningful, Motivational & Memorable” Membership

Lori Halley 03 October 2014 2 comments

Many associations, clubs and non-profits are struggling to recruit and engage younger members – especially “Generation Y” or Millennials. Some organizations are experiencing membership decline, due to the lack of new blood or younger members joining. Others are struggling to figure out how to get the young members they do have involved.

But with the statisticians telling us that Gen Y will overtake the Baby Boomer population in the workforce as soon as next year, the time to engage this generation is now!

Sarah Sladek's book offers powerful insight on engaging this generation

I recently had a chance to review Sarah Sladek’s latest book: Knowing Y: Engage the Next Generation Now, from ASAE's publishing arm, Association Management Press.  In this book, Sladek offers insight and advice on how to connect with Generation Y, and explains that this generation has a different set of needs, interests, values as well as different communication, buying and engagement behaviors. But most importantly, Sladek outlines the implications these needs and interests have for every functional area of associations from advocacy to technology to websites.

It’s not just about Gen Y, “It’s about change.”

As a “next-generation” authority, Sladek believes that “the study of generations presents powerful clues on where to start to faster connect with and influence people of different ages." But she notes right up front that:

 This book isn’t just about a generation. It’s about change; the kind of change that only comes around every hundred years or so.

In the book, Sladek “illuminates five currents of change that are so powerful that they have been referred to as economies. the Sharing Economy, Gig Economy, Knowledge Economy, Experience Economy, and Impact Economy are spurring unprecedented social, economic, and political change on a global scale.”

Yet, Sladek notes that while we’re “on the brink of the largest shift in human capital in history…” for many organizations, “Generation Y is still being dismissed as too young and too entitled to assume any real responsibility.”

As I’ve noted in posts in the past, it is hard to believe that the anti-establishment, free-thinking Baby Boom generation that grew up in such ground-breaking times, could be afraid of change. But as Sladek tells us,

...as people age, their instinct of social conversation becomes stronger, which inevitably brings them in conflict with the normal attribute of youth, which is innovation.

In other words, it’s natural for older generations to resist change, but this resistance can have negative side effects, not excluding generational differences and even conflict when interacting with younger generations who have an insatiable desire for innovation.

The book explains that Gen Y “is a product of their environment and they have been shaped with entirely new skillsets, opinions and values.” And as Sladek notes, “it may seem like they are always steering us away from traditions, when in fact they are steering us towards what’s relevant and meaningful in this brand new world.”

So to connect with this generation, perhaps we need to let go of our past traditions and let Gen Y help steer our associations, clubs and non-profits in a different direction.  

Unparalleled opportunity for those associations willing to embrace change and innovation

Sladek suggests that although the changes in the association world might “seem like “The End of Membership As We Know it”...it actually marks the beginning of unparalleled opportunity for those associations willing to embrace change and innovation.” And she offers examples of organizations, that are succeeding at taking advantage of this change, including:

  • The Air Traffic Controllers Association, which shifted its focus to Gen Y in 2011 resulting in a 30 percent membership increase and 25 percent increase in event attendance of all generations of members.

  • The Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, which launched a Young Leaders Advisory Council in 2009, and observed a 200 percent membership increase and $100,000 revenue increase.

“Focus less on driving ownership and more on providing access”

Sladek helps us understand Gen Y and offers a lot of great insight for membership organizations, especially associations. One of the key messages I took note of was that:

Associations can no longer think of themselves as an entity that people join and take great pride in referring to themselves as members...That’s an ownership behavior.

Associations must now shift their expectations and think in terms of access.The pressure is on for associations to deliver continued, quick and easy access to new information, valuable services and products and meaningful relationships and experiences that deliver a real return on investment.

For Gen Y,  “membership has to be meaningful, motivational, and memorable”

But Gen Y are also part of “the Sharing Economy” so this generation is looking for organizations where sharing occurs – sharing of knowledge, resources, products and services. This, Sladek suggests, means that Associations will need to evolve from the “individual-must-serve-the-association” approach to membership, and instead of focus on ways to generate collaboration and sharing for the purpose of building a sharing community”.

It’s not simply about trying to reach this generation via their social networks or apps. It’s about “changing your association’s value system”. Sladek offers some tips for keeping in mind when crafting your association’s value propositions to attract Gen Y. The key is to remember that this generation wants to hear how joining or participating will make a difference in their individual lives. So you need to "make your association’s focus to make a difference.”

“To succeed you must know Y and why…why does our association exist?

And as Sarah Sladek suggested in a post on the XYZ University blog,

You can choose to dwell on the challenges that lie ahead or you can dwell on the opportunities. But one thing is certain – whatever choice you make from here on out, it will begin and end with Y.

Sladek has convinced me that the more we learn about this generation and the more we embrace the change occurring during this workforce transition, the better off our organizations will be.

What do you think?

Check out the book

Knowing Y: Engage the Next Generation Now is available from the ASAE bookstore.

Additional resources on Millennials:

We’ve included Sarah Sladek’s book on the list of resources in our The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With and Recruiting Younger Members, a compendium of highlights and links to 10 resources that will help you better understand Millennials – available in our Membership Knowledge Hub.

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 03 October 2014 at 8:30 AM


  • Sarah Sladek said:

    Friday, 03 October 2014 at 11:42 AM
    Thank you for reviewing my book. Happy to have Wild Apricot's favorable review!
  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Friday, 03 October 2014 at 11:58 AM
    You're so welcome Sarah. Great book with powerful insight for membership organizations.
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