Converting Millennials Into Members

Capturing the attention – and the involvement – of millennials has proven to be a full-time quest for businesses and researchers. Marketers have conducted endless research on the shopping, buying, Internet-surfing and social-networking habits of the group, also referred to as Generation Y.

Their efforts are helped in no small part by the fact that millennials are connected to media like no generation before, surpassing even the baby boomers’ attachment to television.

Associations are no different in their pursuit of the elusive generation that consistently proves difficult to define, challenging to classify and seemingly even harder to engage.

Let’s start with what we know:

Those born from 1980-2000 are generally considered the millennial generation, estimated to number more than 75 million. That number outpaces the baby boomer generation, and when a group outmans a “boom,” you know it must have some clout.

Because millennials have grown in line with the advancement of technology, they are closely associated with – defined by, really – the digital age.  Connect the digital dots and you’ll hit your target, or so the thinking goes.

Joyce Wilson, executive director of the International Defensive Pistol Association Inc., pointed out that 85 percent of her association’s membership is older than 35, leading to a focus on attracting younger members.

“We’ve been trying to increase our presence in social media as that seems to be the predominant way to reach the younger market,” Wilson said.

As with many traits about this generation, involvement with social media is hard to pin down. Facebook outranks other social networks in terms of use, but a recent survey of 1,000 millennials featured 27 percent of respondents stating they use Facebook less than once a week. Still, when you consider that this group also uses sites such as Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Pinterest, the digital presence is well represented.

“They are looking for quick access, quick answers, and quick ways to respond,” said Craig Lloyd, executive director of the North Carolina National Guard Association, who considers the generation to be in the “sweet spot” of the association’s membership.

He said his association aims at millennials through social media and new technology. They are also interested in a brand “experience,” not just product qualities. That has led to companies using experiential marketing aimed at the generation. Firms have realized that millennials boast a trait of placing trust in a company or product that aligns with their values, and that they can share with friends. As Matt Langie, CMO of Curalate, stated: “Marketers should keep in mind that these consumers don’t want to be marketed to; they want to be engaged.”

That applies to associations, and actually is true of all generations in regards to involvement.

“We have found that giving some young professionals more responsibilities in their prospective committees makes them feel more valued and more willing to engage,” said Victoria Gonzales,  communications specialist at the Texas Recreation and Park Society.

“They need to feel like they are gaining something from the experience.”

That thinking is on firm footing. A Deloitte survey showed that millennials feel their organization is not taking full advantage of their skills. That puts the responsibility on the association, a point that Wilson of IDPA understands.

“Understanding them is difficult so I’m not sure that we have effectively engaged them in association matters,” she said. “We encourage the membership to participate in various aspects of the organization through teams dedicated to things like continuing education, safety officer training, etc.  We try to give them different aspects to contribute.”

Gonzales cited the chance to offer educational trainings that will help the generation’s members move ahead in their fields, adding that TRAPS is in the process of creating a new Young Professionals network that would target millennials specifically.

Lloyd said the North Carolina National Guard Association follows the same philosophy. “We try to benefit them and their families,” said Lloyd. “In our case being a military nonprofit, this age range is focused on advancement.”

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