By now you have probably heard a lot about the Millennial generation—and much of it not so nice. They get a bad rap for being entitled, impatient, too informal and unable to stay focused. While much of that is just hype (we’ve been saying negative things about the “kids these days” for centuries), they also happen to be the biggest generation in the history of the United States, so whatever you might think of them, they are going to impact your association.
How do you prepare for (and attract and engage) this newest generation of members? You skip past the hype and focus on some of the bigger changes accompanying the ascent of the Millennial generation. It’s not about being like them. It’s about adapting to this new, Millennial era. Here are some places to start:
- Be awesome. The Millennials grew up amidst great abundance. The Internet has given them all the information they could ever want—instantly—and when those basic needs are met, they tend to look for more. We may call them entitled, but the fact remains they don’t know a world where you have to wait for information, so make sure your association is adapting to these demands for speed and competency. Get rid of paper applications. Don’t make them enter the same information several times to register for more than one event. Make sure your website works well, particularly on mobile. This may cost you money, but not as much as you’ll lose when the Millennials abandon your association for not adapting to today’s reality.
- Let them try before they buy. Millennials have grown up in a “freemium” world. For the most part, they can download that app and play around with it before deciding to spend money on it. They are much more easily convinced by their own experience than they are with your cleverly crafted marketing messages (remember, they’ve been “marketed at” since they were children—more than previous generations). So if you’re relying on keeping everything behind the membership wall and trying to convince them to pony up the dues, you might want to reconsider.
- Change when you need to. This is a tough one for associations. Most associations have both a history and a governance structure that makes agile shifts nearly impossible. Just think about how long it took you to kill that unsuccessful program just because a few people on the Board liked it so much back in 1993. Millennials don’t understand this. If it doesn’t work, you just let it go. If you need to change who you are as an organization, they expect you to do it. Netflix went from a DVD subscription company to a video streaming company, and now they have become a television production company as well. They shift when they need to. That doesn’t require they shift from their mission (they’ve always been a content-delivery company), but how they do it is flexible. We should be learning, adapting and evolving all the time.
This is just the beginning. You’ll also need to make some changes at the staff level to adjust to the Millennials. There is a revolution happening right now, and it’s not that we all need to be like them. But they are shining a light on some of the big changes that are happening, so we do have a lot we can learn from them.