Business Matters Contractor

The challenge with association memberships

A number of powerful generational, cultural and economic forces are colliding to create a perfect storm that will make the next five to 20 years some of the toughest ever faced by associations. By BELINDA MOORE from Strategic Membership Solutions.

ARE YOUNGER MEMBERS joining your association and then leaving after a year or two, or not joining at all? Are you struggling to get people to your events? Are you battling to recruit quality volunteers? Is your board full of men aged over 50? Are competitive organisations forming around you?

Association leaders need to effectively position themselves to deal with these challenges and take advantage of the opportunities they bring. Following are some of the major issues that association leaders should be addressing now for the future success of their associations.

Baby Boomers are retiring

Baby Boomers started their adult lives determined to change the world and they have certainly done so. During their working lives they have been the most likely to join, the most likely to renew, and the most likely to volunteer with associations. Perhaps more importantly, they are more likely to join an association with the understanding they will need to work to assist the association to achieve its goals.

The fact that Baby Boomers are generally willing to contribute their time and expertise to develop the associations they choose to join has strongly contributed to the rise in the number and strength of member-based organisations from the 1970s onwards.

If your association is to thrive into the future, you must be attractive to all generations. Your entire organisational culture needs to reflect a generationally diverse, welcoming and engaging community.

Skilled staff and volunteer leader shortages

In Australia the number of Generation X individuals is around 4.4 million, which is much smaller than the number of Baby Boomers at 5.3 million, and this poses a couple of challenges for associations.

The exodus of experienced Baby Boomers from senior roles into retirement means we are going to experience a shortage of talent at senior levels across all sectors, which creates an issue for associations seeking both paid staff and talented volunteer leaders.

For associations, where salaries are not on a par with the for-profit sector, this may result in a struggle to attract senior staff capable of navigating their association through turbulent times.

The quality of association boards will also be affected as the reluctance of Generation X to upset their work-life balance, combined with their smaller numbers, will create a much smaller pool of potential volunteer leaders to call on.

Associations are heavily geared towards Baby Boomers

Because Baby Boomers are so actively involved in their associations, the products and services, communication channels and decision-making structures within most associations are geared almost entirely towards this group. This has seen associations concentrate their financial and time resources towards Baby Boomer orientated activities at the expense of investing resources into products and services geared towards younger people.

Creating an organisation that appeals to younger generations means instilling an innovative, proactive, and member responsive culture throughout the entire organisation. This isn’t just starting a Facebook page. It isn’t setting up a Young Professionals group that isn’t resourced nor connected to anywhere else in the association. It definitely isn’t a board made up almost entirely of white men over the age of 50. The kind of change required needs to be embedded throughout your entire organisation.

Generations X and Y

Generation X grew up during times of high divorce rates where it was very likely that both parents were working. They are highly independent, and very protective of their worklife balance. Generation Y grew up with the internet and a constant barrage of messages from a variety of media. They are highly educated, innovative, entrepreneurial, cause driven, marketing savvy and globally focused. They are very aspirational and are attracted to successful brands.

Generations X and Y have vastly different expectations to Baby Boomers when it comes to association membership. To justify the investment of time and/or money into an association they want to see very clearly defined, tangible and compelling value – and not just

when they join. Younger members are constantly reassessing the value of the organisation to them so your value needs to be regularly reinforced even after they join.

Younger members are also much less willing to be a part of an association that needs work. They would rather be associated with a responsive, innovative, socially aware organisation that they perceive to already be successful. If they can’t see that in your organisation they will look elsewhere.

Associations need to understand the value they can deliver to their members. Are members looking for a fantastic career, a great lifestyle, a happy family, a successful business, a healthy planet, or something entirely different? Find out what their aspirations are and proactively provide tangible products and services to help your members more quickly and effectively achieve them.

The value returned to each member needs to far exceed the membership fee invested. This may mean a more creative suite of products and services, or restructuring of membership fees.

If your association is to thrive into the future, you need to clearly understand what value you can deliver to younger members and be able to strongly provide that value. In addition you must understand the best means of communicating that value to both prospective and existing members in such a way that it motivates them to join and engage with your association.

www.smsonline.net.au

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