Are Scholarships the Key to Gaining Younger Membership?


March 2, 2023

Have you thought about creating a scholarship to bring younger members into your trade association? Typically, people would naturally join a trade association to connect with others in the industry, but with social media filling this need today, the value in membership isn’t always obvious to younger generations. 

Many associations are now thinking of new ways to bring in younger members, and a scholarship can be a great way to do this. First, it removes some financial barriers to pursuing a career in that field. Providing that kind of boost to someone’s career path is a great way to start a relationship with a potential member. It also creates more awareness about your association. Before, scholarship applicants might have heard of you; now they’ll want to know what you’re all about.

Before you jump right in to creating your scholarship plan, however, first you should know what it involves:

  1. Developing Intent. First you need to ask yourself what you hope to accomplish with your scholarship. More than just creating potential future members, how do you hope this scholarship will impact the industry? Are there gender or ethnic diversity gaps you’re hoping to change? Is there a shortage in workers you’re wanting to fill?

    The answers to these questions will determine which students you want to support and how you can support them. It will also guide the program specifics, like resources required, activities to pursue, and the potential benefits to the recipients.

  2. Administration. There’s quite a bit of effort that goes into making a scholarship happen. Recruitment requires some strategy to make sure you find the ideal candidates. You’ll need to create an application that gives you the information you need to make a good selection, and then you’ll have to consider the award amount, what expenses it covers, and how it will be disbursed.

  3. Accountability. There are plenty of federal, state, and local laws that govern scholarship provisions. You’ll want to talk to your legal counsel and tax attorneys to make sure you follow all the guidelines.

    In addition, you’ll want to pay close attention to make sure you’re following strict ethical standards. Especially when it comes to the collection and protection of student information, conflicts of interest, possible bias, equity, and selecting the recipients.
Don’t forget to think about taxes when it comes to your scholarship amount. Scholarships are taxable by the federal government, which means the recipient won’t be able to use all of it. To complicate things, federal financial aid eligibility is usually based off the pre-tax value of any scholarships. This can be a big detriment if things are financially tight for the recipient.

If you decide to offer a scholarship, you won’t want to just leave it at that. Now that you’ve established a relationship with the recipient, here are some other things you can offer to incentivize membership:
  • Mentoring programs. Creating a connection between your active members and the award recipients will make it more than just a financial benefit. They’ll have access valuable insights and career connections that may be harder to find on their own.
  • Complimentary association memberships. Consider giving recipients complimentary membership for a set period of time after the scholarship pays out, as an extra financial boost and to give them time to get to know the organization.
  • Invitations to events. Making recipients feel like part of the pack will go a long way toward making them want to stay. Recognizing them during events can open up networking opportunities and help them feel more connected to the organization.
  • Student job fairs. Placing yourself in front of students when they’re considering a career is a great way to increase awareness of your scholarship and gain interest in your organization. Make sure your marketing materials and members working the booth really showcase your value.
  • A younger membership tier. Besides just offering a financial break, offering a tier for newer members shows that you’re being proactive about ways to fill their unique needs as less-established members of the community.
Even if you don’t offer a scholarship, the bottom line to bringing younger members into your association is value. If you’re not sure what younger generations find valuable, start with your member lifecycle. At what point in their careers do people typically join your organization? What is it they need at that stage? 

And beyond what’s typically needed starting out in the field, find out specifically what younger professionals now are looking for. For one thing, they tend to be looking for connection and community. They also want to gain knowledge (with reliable, cited sources). If you have younger members already, ask them what value they gain from the organization or what they’d like to gain. They may be able to help you adjust what you’re doing to increase younger membership.

Whether you offer a scholarship or other incentives to bring in new members, make sure you have a plan for gaining and keeping your members. Every generation is different, so revisit this plan often, keep in touch with your members’ needs, and be open to change. As long as you continue to offer value, you’ll continue to gain members.

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