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Want Millennials to Engage More with Your Association? Start with Being Inclusive

Want Millennials to Engage More with Your Association? Start with Being Inclusive

As a founding partner and CEO of Abacus Data, David Coletto and his team deliver strategic advice and research design expertise to many of Canada’s foremost corporations, advocacy groups, and political leaders. A leader in online research methodologies, public affairs research, corporate and organizational reputation studies, and youth research, David has led projects for companies in many sectors including pharmaceutical, transportation, financial services, educational, natural resource, telecommunications, media, arts and cultural, tourism, and retail. This morning, David spoke to a packed room at the Engaging Associations Forum in Ottawa, on the importance of associations becoming “Millennial-friendly”. He shares some of his points on the topic, below:

A Millennial-friendly association that engages with Millennials must, at its core, be inclusive.

Why is inclusion so important?

We (Millennials) were raised in inclusive environments. Our generation was the first to really be invited to the big kids table early on in life. Our parents asked our opinions and encouraged us to contribute to family discussions. At school, we were taught to embrace differences, work in teams, and not exclude anyone. We didn’t fear failure (because no one “failed” us) and were often recognized for even the most modest of achievements. This is the Canadian Millennial experience.

For many Millennials, member associations appear to be exclusionary and intimidating, often designed to serve the interests of older generations. In fact, my sense is that many associations and those who serve on their boards are hostile towards my generation. My own research suggests that few Canadians over the age of 35 have anything really good to say about Millennials.
Being unwilling to change might have worked in the past when membership was seen as a duty and social media networks like Facebook and LinkedIn were not performing many of the same functions of associations. But what worked in the past, will definitely not work today in the age of generational disruption.

For those associations seriously committed to engaging young members (and let’s face it, the long-term success of your association requires it), the first thing you have to do is determine whether you are an inclusive association.

Inclusion means that members feel that they are welcome to association events and meetings, that their perspectives are listened to and reflected in association decisions, and that they are kept well informed in the way they prefer to receive communications. Most important, inclusion means that the personal values of members and the association’s staff/leadership are similar.

What does an inclusive association look like?

It is easy to join. An inclusive association does not present barriers to membership. Upfront fees may be an effective way of funding your association, but it may also be driving away potential Millennial members. Can you offer a limited membership without a fee to young members? This will give you the chance to demonstrate the value of membership and how inclusive your are.

It is forward thinking. Associations that stick to traditional programming will struggle to engage and include Millennial members. Forget networking over wine and cheese, and try a craft beer tasting instead.

It is diverse. They say ‘You Can’t Be What You Can’t See’, and if your association’s leadership or board is made up entirely of male Baby Boomers, Millennials won’t feel included. Give us someone to relate to by including young, diverse members on your leadership and you’ll find Millennials flocking to participate.

It measures whether its members feel included. Pardon the self-interested point here (I’m a researcher at heart), but it’s important to engage members and find out if they feel included. Inclusion means different things to different people so make sure your survey captures all aspects on the concept.

David Coletto/July, 2016