In our 2017 State of the Conference Industry report, we asked association professionals if their organizations have developed strategies to meet the needs of Millennials and Generation Z. Only 10% of the respondents indicated that they have a plan in place to attract, engage and retain Millennials. Even fewer (8%) indicated they have a plan for Gen Z. As Millennials take the workforce by storm, associations are seeing their member demographics shift. This means that successfully connecting with these younger members is crucial to an association’s success.
Not sure where to start recruiting younger members? We spoke with Nicole Lourette, Event Coordinator for The Society for Protective Coatings (SSPC) to learn more about the steps they’re currently taking to attract younger talent to their industry and the lessons they’re learning along the way.
SSPC is a non-profit association that provides information such as coating selection, environmental regulations and health and safety concerns that affect the protective coatings industry. The association also provides training and certification for both individuals and corporate entities.
Historically, SSPC’s membership consisted of an older demographic, with most members being men between 40 and 60 years old. But in recent years, that appears to be changing. According to Nicole, “[There has been a] noticeable change in conference this year; we have seen an uptick in Millennial attendees in the past 2-3 years, but this past year, 20-30% of the conference were young professionals under the age of 40.”
The Start of a New Strategy
Nicole told us that their plan to more strategically target a younger member group began when they started seeing changes in their own staff—recently, SSPC has hired more young individuals. They then realized that the industry professionals they serve have hiring needs, too: “SSPC is there to help build an interest in careers in the industry.” With more and more Millennials—and Gen Z coming up soon after—SSPC realized that catering to the needs of younger members will help generate more interest for the industry. They also acknowledged that things hadn’t changed much in the past few years. As Nicole noted, “[We were hosting] the same event, offering the same content and giving members the same resources and opportunities.” They decided it was time to change it up.
About a year ago, SSPC began an initiative to formalize a plan for younger members. They created task forces for different projects with a mixture of older and younger staff members. Nicole explained that they started by listening. They polled veteran industry members, university and trade school partners and students to learn what they needed as it compares to what SSPC currently offers. They also asked their young staff members what motivated them to attend an event or become a member of an organization or service, from AAA to Amazon Prime.
Plan in Action
Since beginning the initiative, SSPC has activated its first programs for recruiting younger members. They’ve begun an outreach program with high schools, trade schools and universities to educate students about the industry and its opportunities and have started scholarship programs for students. A new mentorship program with industry veterans is underway; the list of mentors and the curriculum for the program was recently finalized.
Training isn’t the only thing SSPC is changing, though. Nicole told us that they’re also making changes to their annual conference to keep it fresh and new, including more interactivity and technology. They recently experimented with a young professionals happy hour event, which yielded positive feedback. More events like this will make their way into the annual conference and outside of it to keep Millennials and Generation Z engaged and interested.
Nicole explained that veteran members of the association have responded positively to the changes, as well: “[They’ve said the] changes have been refreshing, but we do have to find a balance. They have a need for consistency, a mix of doing the tried-and-true with the new.”
Words of Wisdom for Recruiting Younger Members
We asked Nicole for any words of wisdom she could share with fellow association professionals who are looking to expand their reach to Millennials and Generation Z. Nicole expressed the importance of listening to the younger generation. “Let them tell you what they want and work with it to retain them.” She also suggested looking at what other mainstream (non-association) organizations are doing to get ideas.
“Keep an open mind and try things, even if you’re not sure what the success rate will be.” However, not everything can be done right away. Her advice was to take one thing at a time and try to keep a balance between staff and member needs.
Ultimately, associations should be thinking about their plans to address the needs of Millennial and Gen Z members as soon as possible. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but make sure you’re listening to your new and existing members. Veteran members will likely appreciate some fresh ideas, too! Don’t get stuck delivering the same content or value year over year. Planning for younger members can help you bring beneficial change to your association and keep your new (and old) members happy.