Millennials and Small-Staff Associations: A Great Match?

By: Shannon Otto

Small-staff organizations and millennial employees can help each other succeed.

Generation Y. Millennials. The Net Generation. Echo Boomers. The Boomerang Generation.

However you refer to them, there's no denying they're entering the workforce in droves. It's a good thing, too; young professionals have a lot to offer membership organizations. And for millennials just beginning to establish their careers, small-staff associations can be a particularly fulfilling starting point.

How can small-staff associations maximize the value they receive from, and the opportunities they offer to, their young-professional staff?

Professional development. This may seem counterintuitive; after all, small-staff organizations typically lack extensive training budgets. "It's difficult to commit the time and resources to accomplish [professional development]," says Amanda Washington, CISR, junior vice president of Professional Insurance Agents, Western Alliance, an organization with 10 staff. "Especially in this economy … so many of us are filling the roles of employees lost due to the recession."

But even devoting just a few hours each month to education and development can benefit younger staffers—and more experienced staff, as well. "If there is a webinar that a number of people are interested in, we use our conference room and everyone in the office participates," says Angela Schnepf, assistant director of society relations at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

For a small staff, if only one person attends a big event, everyone in the office can benefit. According to Schnepf, at AAOS, "If and when anyone attends a meeting, they bring back everything they learned, including their notes, tips and tricks, and handouts, to share with the staff." This strategy keeps conference fees low while allowing everyone to glean takeaways and learn from an event's sessions.

Sarah Shepard-Kneip, a millennial and a program specialist with AARP Maryland, says her organization provides internal training focused on live meetings, social media tools, and management development. The Maryland office of AARP has just seven staff members who oversee 850,000 members statewide.

"There is a need for more opportunities to be created to adequately prepare young professionals like myself in management and public speaking in order to become more effective future leaders," Shepard-Kneip says.

Breadth of experience and opportunity. Young staff members at small organizations can be exposed to several different departments. "By being in a small association, the employee is much closer to all association functions," says Douglas M. Kleine, CAE, president of Professional Association Services.

"For example, an editorial assistant has a far better chance to go on a [Capitol] Hill visit with the director in a small association than in a large one," says Kleine. He adds, "[A young professional] may have been hired for membership, but his or her web-design skills will get noticed and give him or her an opportunity to explore a new field before committing to one career path."

Plus, new ideas can be put into play more quickly within a small-staff organization. "A small association is less formal and can approve things faster," Kleine says.

Grooming for the future. Small-staff executives should keep in mind that millennials constantly seek change and want fulfilling careers that still allow them to maintain a work-life balance.

"In many associations, especially small ones, good staff should not be expected to stick around," says David M. Patt, CAE, president of Association Executive Management. "Our task is to help [young professionals] grow up and out of our organizations. The best reputation for many small associations is to be a successful stepping stone to better positions."

Shannon Otto is a blogger for MemberClicks, an association management software company. Email: [email protected]