What would happen if you could offer younger professionals in your industry the chance to learn new skills, have a great time getting to know their peers, and make a difference in their community?
You’d probably have a very popular leadership program for young professionals. We know a trade association that’s operating just such a program. The remarkable thing is that the association is not looking for immediate rewards. After all, programs like this don’t attract new members to a trade association right away.
In a trade association, the participants don’t join, their companies do. But by the time these leaders are running the companies that belong to this association, they will have great memories of working with the association and will have developed an outstanding professional network.
Everything about this program, including the impact it has on its community, appeals to younger professionals. This program has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for programs helping the most vulnerable, teaching leadership skills at every level. Programs like this are key to creating a vibrant membership, especially if the sponsoring association is an individual membership organization.
We know about another program for mid-career leaders who want to move into the C-suite but aren’t quite there yet. They still need specific training in running a business, and they need contacts as they plan to move up in the company. As an added facet, many of the participants in this program are involved in family companies, and they need to have the skills necessary to take over when an older family member retires.
You can imagine the response when young professionals encounter an association that can help them master their current positions and can deliver further training at later points during their careers. They can build a personal brand within the industry. They see opportunities to lead and make a difference in their profession and their communities.
In these two examples, current members of the association support the programs and lend their expertise to the participants. They allow flexibility in work schedules for employees who are involved in the program.
It makes sense. Great leaders are always looking for talent. Helping with these programs gives them time to evaluate young leaders who are confronting challenges as they raise money and complete projects to aid their charities.
Participants are encouraged to develop a personal brand. That brand often gets them noticed by leaders in other companies. One association has recognized that companies were poaching promising young leaders from other companies. In some of their programs, the association has adopted a type of non-compete agreement that keeps poaching to a minimum.
Why Are Leadership Programs So Effective?
Professionals who were born between 1980 and 2000, so-called millennials, have been surveyed and studied extensively. Although it’s not a great idea to lump us all together, we do have some identifiable traits that can help associations understand what we need as members.
- We value networking, both professionally and personally.
- We want to gain new skills and practice them at work.
- We want to develop a personal brand.
- We want opportunities to grow and develop and will change jobs to get them.
- We want to change the world, starting with our own communities.
Leadership programs like the ones mentioned earlier accomplish most of these goals. In fact, associations, not just their programs, are set up to provide opportunities to satisfy these needs.
Non-profits, in general, are founded to serve a need. They are known for raising funds for almost every charitable cause there is. A young professional only needs to choose a non-profit to marry personal aspirations to professional goals. In fact, it is likely that ambitious millennials will start their own non-profits to flex their entrepreneurial muscles.
Associations, particularly individual membership organizations, are not as directly tied to social causes, but many are involved in political action and advocacy. Others are dedicated to promoting the ideals of a given profession or to curing disease.
The missions of both non-profits and associations are attractive to professionals who want to make a difference. By working in their profession’s association, young professionals can accomplish their goals.
Here are 5 ways you can position your association to attract talented members:
- Emphasize your mission. Clearly describe how your members can affect change in the world through the work of the association.
- Revamp your communications. Communicate authentically with your audience. Use technology to personalize your messages. Segment your messages. Consider upgrading your technology if personalizing messages is difficult or seems impossible.
- Make sure to deliver value, not just good pricing. Low prices are great but not if your members aren’t getting a good value for their money. At the same time, don’t forget inclusive pricing or scholarships that allow all members of the profession to access association programs.
- Have some fun! Explore new ways to teach, mentor, experience, and grow. Learning new skills in a fun experience isn’t just fun for young professionals. You might find your seasoned professionals enjoy it, too. Your educational offerings can include leadership skills, as well as professional certifications and credentials.
- Recognize individuals. Every age cohort is full of individuals – some might even say characters. Although each group shares some traits, we don’t show respect when we use stereotypes. Each age group has lessons to learn from the others, and respect is key.
Few associations are managed just like they were when they were founded, especially if they’ve been around for a decade or two. The nature of associations allows them to change and adapt.
The specific reasons professionals and companies join an association change, but the goal is the same – to help their members, to help their industry, and to help their association.
Emma is the Marketing Manager at Rhythm. When she's not thinking about all things content-related, you can find her traveling or shooting 35 mm film.