Not long ago, it didn’t take much to stabilize or grow your association’s membership numbers. The benefits of joining were obvious. Membership dues provided unique networking opportunities, advocacy efforts, annual conferences, and professional education. Plus, people would join because others did — their parents, industry leaders, or coworkers.
Today is a whole different ball game.
10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age in America every single day until 2030. That means many of your devoted members are leaving vacant seats. You can no longer assume your current members will renew, much less that new members will join. “Dad did, so I will” is no longer good enough. Networking on LinkedIn is easy and free, and advocacy and specialized education abound online. It’s all too easy for potential members to think that they don’t need your association. And rightly so — many associations can no longer prove their worth.
Syncing up with the attitudes, behaviors, desires, and values of your association’s next generation isn’t optional. It’s the only way to stay in the game. Here’s how.
1. Speak The Language of Digital Natives
Your retiring members can recall the days of navigating to a beach vacation with a paper map. Next generation members are guided to the beach with Siri’s help.
These scenarios illustrate the difference between those who learned technology at some point in adulthood and those who are “digital natives” (who grew up with technology). Your association needs to master the language of digital natives — they’re your future.
In order to communicate effectively with digital natives, you must bear in mind their tendency to:
- Choose the digital and readily available over the tactile and cumbersome. If digital natives have an industry-related question, they won’t dig through an old binder of conference notes. Any association information distributed on paper is headed straight for the recycling bin — guaranteed. A quick, easy online browse must deliver the answers they need.
- Rely on interconnectivity. Digital natives are accustomed to G-Suite. That means they are used to unified systems, apps for managing all facets of their lives, and sharing documents easily with others. If your association relies on disparate, disjointed systems, you’ll look clumsy and out of step to digital natives.
Oh, and let’s not forget social media. Is your association’s social media presence nonexistent, self-serving, or (maybe worse) boring?
- Be confident in their ability to navigate digital spaces. They’re likely to move around your website with finesse — and make quick judgements about the relevance of your organization. Does your site guide them clearly, cleanly, and consistently?
- Expect transparency and accountability. A healthy degree of skepticism is quite common. Digital natives want to know your intentions. They’ll look for social proof to verify you keep your promises. And they’ll hold you accountable for both.
Digital natives are also highly selective. If you want their attention, you have to earn it. Thanks to complex algorithms, they’re used to being served up what they’re interested in. And that attention you earn? You may only have it for seconds.
2. Show You “Get It” With Good Design
Instagram averages 500 million daily active users. Your association should care deeply about that number as it represents, in part, a global obsession with aesthetics. Whether it be a coffee grinder, sneakers, or a new event landing page, your next generation of members demands it looks good. “Functional” is assumed, and style is no longer optional.
The next generation will draw conclusions about you by how your website looks and navigates. Your website should hold up to their scrutiny, so make sure you consider:
- Your online presence — centered on your website — must be visually appealing. To reach the next generation, your association needs to modernize and energize its imagery. Instead of using the same old snapshots and tired stock photos, leverage professional photography of your association active in your industry. Think beyond photos and utilize video, animation, and scannable copy.
- Next-generation members know how a website “should” work, and your website must be intuitive to them. Billions of dollars are spent on making websites and digital tools easy to use. User experience standards are set by huge silicon valley companies — not other association websites.
- Your website must be accessible from any device. The experience of your website should be as good on mobile as it is on desktop. After all, nearly 54% of web traffic is through mobile phones. The next generation is in the habit of switching from device to device, from moment to moment. Can they shift from exploring your website on a laptop to a phone without missing a beat?
Organizations that will survive and thrive in the next decade need a cohesive — and attractive — online presence. Your association can be no exception.
3. Tell Stories That Communicate Purpose and Grow Loyalty
The next generation needs a compelling reason to join your association. Tangible “benefits” like industry resources, education, and networking are not convincing anymore. This is true even if membership in your association is automatic, free, or obligatory.
Your association needs to provide something exceptional: a sense of belonging and a chance to make a difference. The next generation of members is moved to participate when they feel they matter. And they will take action when they feel it has a measurable impact on something they care about. Essentially, your association needs to tug on their heart strings.
Appealing to the heart is every bit as important as appealing to their sense of aesthetics — maybe more so. Translate your association’s mission into a unique story that proves your authenticity and purpose. And be aware: every aspect of your website adds (or potentially subtracts) from your story.
When your association is walking your talk, your members have something they can be proud to be part of. So tap into the tools at your disposal — like members’ stories that share the impact your association has made on the industry.
Now is the best time to disrupt your association’s status quo. You can’t afford to waste any more time as more and more members retire or bypass renewal. Welcome change. Insist on innovation. And put in the work to prove your value to your future members.