The Vanguard View: Insight for Association Websites

Guest Post: The Truth About Recruiting Younger Members

Posted by Chris Bonney on Mon, Nov 30, 2009


What's been said on the topic

There was a lively discussion recently on the ASAE list serv about recruiting younger members and the difficulties around successfully accomplishing such a feat. Some felt it's a generational thing while others took the "kids these days" mindset. I was deeply impressed with one response on the list serv from a person who not only articulated the truth about recruiting younger members very succinctly, but used statistics to back it up.

That person was Dean West, president of Association Laboratory, Inc. in Chicago. To paraphrase, Dean basically said that the sky is the limit when it comes to getting younger folks to join your organization. They are, in fact, "joiners" as much as any baby boomer ever was. The trick is in the offering.

Let's get an expert's perspective

I asked Dean to write a guest post for our blog on the truth about recruiting younger members. This is what he wrote:

describe the imageI’ve beenfascinated by the level of drama in recent discussions regarding the next generation’s participation in groups in general and associations specifically. It seems you can’t go a single day without some blogger penning how member organizations as we know them are facing obsolescence.

How, many writers wail, will membership organizations survive in the face of the younger generation’s failure to join or participate in member organizations?

Too often though, the proclamations of these doomsayers are made with little perspective and less information.

Consider the following.

The number of nonprofit organizations is growing. The IRS currently recognizes approximately 1.8 million non-profit organizations. In 2006, the IRS received form 990’s from ≈ 238, 000 501(c)(3) organizations compared to ≈  150,000 in 1996.

New, successful membership models have been created and are prospering. Business models which rely on an individual’s decision to join a group have never been more prevalent. Recent options that have never before existed include, LinkedIn and facebook.

Members of the Y or Millennial generation are more likely to join. A study conducted by the William Smith Foundation found that members of the Y generation are as likely, if not more likely, than members of the Baby Boom generation to join professional associations.

The evidence clearly supports the conclusion that the younger generation will continue to join, support and otherwise be active in member organizations.

The key question is not whether or not the next generation will join, but whether or not they will join will your organization vs. some other organization.

The key to association prosperity is not to presume young people won’t join but to focus on creating a membership experience that clearly differentiates the association from other sources.

Associations that focus on clearly defining their audience and creating a substantive experience for members will continue to prosper. This will require improved understanding of which audiences you serve and why, the similarities and differences between these audiences and a relentless focus on the implementation of high quality programs and services.


Thanks to Dean for his insights.

So, what about your organization? Are you shooting for the younger members? Think social networking is the silver bullet? Or maybe you thought it was, but now you're not so sure? What's your opinion on Dean's perspective?

Topics: association laboratory, younger members, web strategy, ASAE, Communications, web 2.0, social media

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