Associations today are seeing a gap between member groups, driven by everything from career stage to values and beliefs. Meetings members where they are involves understanding expectations, evolving journeys, and enabling contributions from all.
This spring, Forj convened a group of association leaders for an exclusive Think Tank on the state of member experience. There was so much to explore that the group elected to get together again in June, taking a deeper dive into some of the common challenges they’d raised and sharing more ideas for overcoming the obstacles.
One of the themes that emerged in our original Think Tank session was the generational divide that so many organizations have encountered. At a time when two large generations—millennials and baby boomers—coexist in the workforce, many associations are grappling with the best ways to meet the needs of very different member types.
The differences are driven by a number of factors: generational beliefs and ideologies, career stages, and even broader shifts in society. But regardless of what’s created the divide, association leaders agree that bridging it is critical to their long-term, sustainable success.
In the past, association membership could safely be viewed as a collection of like-minded professionals who shared largely the same knowledge, experience, interests, desires, and needs. Today, leaders are seeing greater variation in member personas—from their experience and career stage to their values and beliefs.
So, how do you cultivate an approach to meet members where they are without alienating any of the groups? There isn’t a single solution, nor are there simple step-by-step instructions. But there are some strategies that the association leaders we spoke to believe can help you bridge the divide.
Dig into the differences in member expectations and attitudes
Associations that have noticed a bifurcation in membership have seen that opposite generations have different attitudes about what they want from an association. In some cases, the differences can be traced to the way business and society have been woven more tightly together. Today, leaders have a broader spectrum of stakeholders, from staff and members to partners and activists.
In response to expanding expectations, many associations have started to take more care in targeting their messaging and adapting their offerings to create an experience that feels custom-fit for each member and meets the needs of all stakeholders.
Evolve member personas and journeys
Developing personas and member journeys isn’t a new or novel concept, but today’s challenges have led many associations to accelerate their efforts to evolve old models. External influences are a factor, with members increasingly turning to other organizations and outside resources to fulfill needs traditionally served by their professional association—from learning and certifications to research and thought leadership.
Knowing they need a compelling success path for all members, association leaders are looking more closely at membership make-up, traits, and behaviors to identify needs and create pathways to support members in every stage of their careers. Something that has been key to some associations’ success is involving member leaders and volunteers, who can be tapped for insights and anecdotes.
Enable contributions across communities
Fostering a greater focus on member personas and profiles has helped many associations better assess where they’re providing value and where they have gaps to fill. A common theme they’ve uncovered? Cultivating the right type of engagement at each stop on a member’s journey.
Enabling contributions across communities lets members know there’s a place where they can help others who are in different stages of their careers. Many association leaders have noticed that early career and young professionals show enthusiasm for volunteering and are apt to raise their hands to present or contribute to content creation. Professionals at later career stages are likely to engage in thought leadership and appreciate opportunities to coach and mentor.
The new make-up of membership has pulled many associations down new paths that led them to rethink the member experience and inspired innovation. And without a doubt, continued opportunities to share challenges and gain fresh perspectives will help association leaders like those in our Think Tank craft more sustainable strategies for long-term success.