Attracting Next-Gen Members Begins With Organizational Self-Examination

Drumm and Moris_next gen members November 15, 2023 By: Megan Drumm, CAE and Elizabeth Moris

Recruiting young members is necessary to support an association’s growth. However, research shows that organizations are having difficulty attracting this cohort. To overcome this and develop a marketing strategy that appeals to young professionals, associations must first understand their current environment.

Attracting younger members is an increasingly vital task for professional organizations that rely on membership-based revenue models. However, that’s often easier said than done: According to a HiringThing report, 56 percent of associations are having trouble engaging young professionals.

However, associations can overcome these challenges by examining their environment, audience, and data to develop a marketing approach that will resonate with younger audiences.

Looking Within: Audience and Environment

Your association may have seen a decrease in new members joining via recruitment campaigns or other avenues—and it is not for lack of marketing or trying. So, what is the real reason behind it? 

Understanding the environment in which your association belongs is a great start in identifying the factors contributing to your problem. For instance, how is your brand represented? Where would someone go to find information about your association?

Let’s say you’re an education association that is targeting higher institutional faculty, mentors, and staff who can find information on the association’s website, within faculty-driven newsletters, and on social media platforms. Your association can determine if these avenuesfaculty-driven newsletters, your website, etc.are hindering your targeted audience reach. From your existing databases, Google analytics, etc., are you able to see if these communication avenues are reaching a younger audience? Knowing your brands communication limitations can help you determine your next move.

You also want to dig deeper into your audience. How does your association define a young member? Young can refer to age, but it can also mean individuals new to the industry, career changers, or potential recruits to the profession.

Once you define your audience, the goal is to figure out how they engage with your organization. Look beyond the dues-paying young members. Are there people within this audience who are interacting with your offerings but aren’t yet members? This data can help you understand the bigger trends of their behaviors and how your association may be able to fulfill their needs.

Reaching Out: Data and Creativity to Attract Members

When you know your environment and audience, you can apply that information to current research about what younger audiences want from brands and organizations.

According to the same HiringThing report mentioned earlier, many millennials and Gen Z professionals look for authentic brands that reflect their values and maintain a strong reputation through online presence or social media following. In addition, younger professionals are likely to be digitally savvier than past generations, enjoy a variety of short-form content formats, and are generally more trusting of peer-to-peer recommendations rather than generic advertisements.

Associations can apply this knowledge to better market to younger members. Here are some questions to consider.

  • Authentic brands. How does your brand appeal to young members? Why do you need these groups, and why do they need your association? Are you using language that resonates with these groups and maintains your association’s authentic voice? Offering personalized and direct messaging is a change you can implement immediately.
  • Content formats. Are you using video clips, GIFs, Reels, or Threads on social platforms? In addition, try incorporating more video testimonials and if your newsletters are only in written form, consider ways to include more audio or video options.
  • Digital savvy. Is your website user-friendly? Does it express the journey that you want members to follow? Do you have an SEO strategy in place? Are you capturing data through landing pages? Do you have a resources library that younger professionals can use to learn more about your organization?
  • Peer-to-peer influence. Have you used your community to help spread the word? A social campaign that prompts members to share things like “I’m attending,” “I’m presenting at…”, or “I am a member of…” will feel more authentic than traditional advertising.

As associations consider the next generation of members, it’s important that their marketing efforts stay nimble, which will allow them to creatively respond to trends and data and ultimately grow their membership.

Megan Drumm, CAE

Megan Drumm, CAE, is marketing director at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Elizabeth Moris

Elizabeth Moris is director of brand engagement for the Council on Undergraduate Research and chair of ASAE’s Marketing Professionals Advisory Council.