Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Membership and the Millennial Generation: A Whole New World

Membership and the Millennial Generation: A Whole New World
by Mark Scheffer, Nonprofit Communications Report

Millennials. Generation Y. Echo Boomers. Whatever you call this group, there are 76 million of them, the oldest are just turning 30 and, according to Steven Worth, president of Plexus Consulting Group (Washington, DC), they have already transformed just about everything you thought you knew about the marketplace.

“My generation grew up local, and local was all there was,” he says. “This generation has grown up with the world at their fingertips and they’re accustomed to going out and getting exactly what they want.

The days of members sticking with a fat and happy organization are long gone and not coming back.”

Here Worth reflects on several notable attributes of the Millennial generation and the impact they are having on membership organizations.

Around 40 percent of millennials are of a minority or racially-mixed background. “It used to be you did business only with people you knew, who looked like you, were part of your ‘tribe.’ Now business is based on competency, and the U.S. is headed toward becoming a majority-minority nation. That is all for the good, but it means membership organizations have to give serious thought about how they appeal to people with different work habits, value propositions and languages. Sensitivity is part of it, but ultimately associations must find ways to define their missions in ways that are universally compelling, regardless of racial or ethnic background.”

Millennials are often said to be the first American generation expected to less well economically than their parents.

“The millennial generation will face, literally, a world of competition. America will no longer be the unquestioned leader in any industry, and many people will advocate reactionary and protectionist stances--but shutting out the world is exactly the wrong thing to do. Successful organizations will be the ones that realize that, along with all the competition, they are also facing a world of potential members and customers. Globalization, if only marketing to overseas industries and professionals, will be the way to a prosperous future.”

Millennials are the first generation who have never known life without the internet. “Growing up on the internet, millennials are used to going out and getting whatever they want. In many organizations, membership has dropped, prompting some to suggest that this generation simply aren’t ‘joiners’. But in this same period volunteer activities have risen. What has become clear is that millennials are more motivated by mission than any previous generation. While they will not show loyalty to an organization like previous generations did, they will show loyalty to a cause. Membership organizations must therefore articulate a clear and compelling cause, mission and purpose.”

Millennials tend to frequently change positions, jobs and even fields.

“Many membership organizations are going to have to rethink their entire business model – what their purpose is, how they relate to members, how they make money. In the old paradigm, money came through membership dues. Now many of the most successful associations rely not on dues but on the products and services they sell. To them, membership rolls are important only for the data they provide, and as long as people are participating in their courses and purchasing their products ,they are not bothered by members coming and going. Some of our fastest growing clients don’t even have formal membership departments. They know that if you offer essential services, members will come as a matter of course.”

Causes for Concern: For-Profit Competition, Advancing Age Sometimes member organizations don’t recognize trouble when they see it, says Steven Worth, president of Plexus Consulting Group (Washington, DC). To stay on top of needed changes and developments, he suggests watching for the following warning signs.

· For-Profit Competition. “Non-profits should be able to offer better products at better prices because they don’t have shareholders to pay,” says Worth. “So if for-profits are gaining traction in your area, it means your organization is not operating as efficiently as it needs to be, or is not offering products the target market wants.”

· Advancing Age. “Any organization should see membership pick up around age 25 and drop off around 55, because those are the prime years of a career,” says Worth. “If the average age of your members is right down the middle, you’re where you need to be. If the average is pushing to the high end of that range or off into the sixties, you’re developing an association of retirees getting together socially, and that’s trouble.”

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