Associations: How to Appeal to Millennials

Date ranges differ depending on the source you reference, but the Millennial generation is generally defined to be the cohort of young adults born between approximately 1981 and 1996, coming of age around the turn of the century. They are currently between the ages of 24 to 39, getting married, buying homes and having children. They are settling into their careers, interested in striking a good work-life balance and are increasing their power in society and the marketplace.

As the offspring of Baby Boomers, the Millennial generation is a large group that you should be actively courting for membership in your association. In many ways, the Millennial generation is much like those before it in the desire for security, a fulfilling career, a nice home, and loving family and friends. But as society and life circumstances continually change, every generation does have its own particular influences, quirks and desires. It’s impossible to generalize about millions of young people, as everyone is individual and unique. However, there are certain characteristics that many 20- and 30-somethings share.

Common Millennial Traits

Digitally native. Millennials have grown up with access to digital technology and the internet and are very savvy tech users. They text and message through online apps more than via traditional phone calls. They use their phones to access the internet, make purchases, do their banking and much more.

Culturally diverse. This generation is less white than previous generations, with many identifying as multi-racial. They are more likely to have friends and family members from different racial groups than their own.

Well-educated. More Millennials are entering the workforce with some form of higher education than previous generations.

Experience-driven. Meaning that Millennials tend to be less interested in spending money on material possessions and “stuff” and are more interested in memorable experiences, events, travel, food and drink and novel opportunities to expand their horizons.

Tolerant. They tend to have liberal attitudes towards societal issues such as gay marriage, legalizing marijuana, gender equality and so on. They will be attracted to organizations that share these values and turned off by those that don’t.

Compassionate. Millennials have high participation rates in volunteerism and prefer to work for companies engaged in the betterment of society.  They see themselves as global citizens and believe they have a duty to make the world a better place.

Entrepreneurial. A high proportion of this generation expresses interest in starting their own business or working for themselves in a freelance/contractor capacity. They believe in creating their own luck and opportunities. They are much less likely to work for one company for most of their lives.

Tips for Attracting and Retaining Millennials in Your Association

Be authentic. Millennials distrust flashiness and they can smell a sales pitch coming from miles away. They value authenticity over most everything else. Be honest and upfront about what you do, your successes and failures, your strengths and challenges. If your organization makes a mistake, step up and own it. Millennials will respect transparency more than a fake semblance of perfection.

Get on social media. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are powerful tools to reach new young members and keep existing members engaged. But an inactive Facebook page is worse than not having one at all. It will give the appearance that your group is inactive or has nothing worth sharing. Whichever platforms you choose to use, be consistent and share regularly. Video is a particularly powerful tool to use on social media. Find someone in your association who is social media savvy to manage your social media accounts and keep them updated.

[Related: Small Business Social Media Tips]

Ensure that your technology is up-to-date. You need to have options for current and prospective members to contact you digitally. If the only way to get in touch for more information about your association is to call and leave a voicemail, many people under the age of 40 will likely write off your group immediately. Your website also needs to be cell phone friendly. Can you accept membership payments online? More and more young people don’t even own paper checks.

Give plenty of feedback. This generation likes to cultivate a mentor/mentee relationship with employers and established professionals. In 2010 the Journal of Business and Psychology, contributors Myers and Sadaghiani find millennials “expect close relationships and frequent feedback from supervisors.”  They like to receive acknowledgement for their work. Embrace this! They are looking to you for advice and guidance. Fostering a positive working relationship with a respected veteran in your association can make the difference in the likelihood that a new young recruit will become a long-term member.

Engage their sense of altruism. Millennials tend to be compassionate people who volunteer for a cause because they genuinely want to help make the world a better place. Look for ways to document the results of their work projects via photos and videos so that they can see hard evidence that their efforts matter.

Listen to their ideas. This generation often sees opportunities for doing things in a new way. Be open to hearing their thoughts and be willing to change the status quo if they are making good points and reasonable suggestions.

Give them opportunities to lead or start projects. Millennials may not be satisfied simply being one more cog in the wheel of your organization. They will likely be more motivated to run with a project that they are truly passionate about. Consider offering them a leadership role or organizing a new initiative for which they show an interest.