Tuesday 17 December 2013

Engaging Next Generations

Recently, over 100 members of the Ottawa-Gatineau CSAE Chapter met at the Sheraton Ottawa to listen to a panel of three association executives that discussed member engagement, particularly the challenges they faced involving the next generations of members.

Panelists Sean Kelly(National Director of Membership at the Canadian Bar Association), Linda Palmer, CAE(Director of Membership Services and Trainee Programs at the Canadian Cardiovascular Society) and Leacy O’Callaghan-O’Brien, CAE (Director, Advocacy, Communications and Events at the Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists) shared the experience of their organizations. In each case, the association had identified early signs of weakening interest from younger generations.

The panel was moderated by David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data, an Ottawa-based full-service market research firm. David was particularly well-suited to facilitate a discussion on this topic as his firm offers a Canadian Millennial practice (which includes advice for engaging with this emerging generation) and David is a millennial himself!

As part of his opening remarks, David presented a compelling overview of the importance of member segmentation based on the premise that different generations will have particular interests and needs. For example, education and mentorship rank as highly important benefits for millennials while networking and discounts were the highest ranked incentives for boomers to join an association.

A great deal of valuable information was shared during this session. It was clear that associations need to be attentive to signs or triggers that may indicate that they are, or will soon be, facing a drop in involvement by younger cohorts. Potential indicators include difficult economic conditions (making it harder for organizations to justify a membership dues expense), competition for membership from other organizations, low renewal rates amongst those transitioning from academia to the workforce particularly where membership is voluntary, and difficulty in getting younger members to participate in programs.

All of the panelists agreed that once indicators have been identified it is critical to make informed decisions based on research and consultation so that appropriate solutions can be identified and implemented.

Here are a few of the diverse and original solutions shared by the panel. Some of these may be helpful within your organization:

  • Ensuring the voice of younger members is being heard by providing opportunities to participate in meaningful decision making
  • Inclusion at the top -- dedicating a board position for younger members
  • Naming young professional ambassadors
  • Creating a committee dedicated to new members
  • Implementing recognition programs and awards
  • Increasing social media presence
  • Going visual -- making videos about the brand
  • Delivering specifically what they value
  • Being willing to think outside the box -- not relying on how things have always been done

After implementing a number of these changes, each of the three organizations represented by the panel reported significant improvements in participation from younger generations. Success indicators included increased conversions from trainees to members as well as an overall boost in member numbers.

Ultimately, the fate of membership associations rests with our ability to attract and keep younger generations engaged. The earlier this is recognized and addressed, the greater the likelihood that your association will enjoy a sustainable future.

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