Membership + Marketing

How to Cultivate Student Members as the Future of Your Association

How to Cultivate Student Members as the Future of Your Association

Students are the future of your industry and your association, and during their training, your association has a chance to support them as they confront challenges and enter the professional world. By establishing relationships early in their careers, you have a chance to create bonds that will grow as former student members advance professionally.

The key to retaining student members is the same as it is with professional members – offer a value proposition that meets their needs. The association should always strive to provide value in exchange for membership no matter what industry your members serve.


What are the Top 5 Challenges of Serving Student Members?

Student members often:

       Relocate to start their first jobs

       Have limited financial resources, even with a stable income

       Don’t feel obligated to keep the association updated with changing information

       Have a heightened interest in career development and networking

       Want help with certification and licensure


How Can You Overcome the Challenges of Serving Student Members

How to Find Your Student Members

Students usually don’t have business addresses or even permanent home addresses,  and they are likely to move during their training, making it difficult to use regular mail to reach them. Their student email addresses may be tied to their schools and may not continue after they graduate. Students may be hesitant to give you their personal contact information like personal email addresses and mobile numbers. It’s easy to lose track of a student member as they transition from school to their first full-time job. So how can you reach them? 

  • Identify the schools, colleges, and universities that educate professionals in your industry
  • Get to know the administrators of those programs, and market association membership through those programs
  • Ask for students' roster updates at least once a year
  • Provide information about your association to the program
  • Host informal luncheons for students so they can get to know the association
  • Ask the administrators to help you contact their students
  • Follow any popular social media for students in the program
  • Sponsor awards or contests for students in your industry. Free registration at your annual meeting can be an attractive offer. Entry forms can provide the contact information you want
  • Remember the ubiquity of social media. Establish a presence on the most popular social media platforms for your students and young professionals


How to Help Your Young Professionals Afford Their Membership

It’s a given that most students are financially challenged, but often young professionals are too. To help younger members afford their memberships, you might consider a tiered approach to dues. Establish a student rate, a young professionals rate, and a rate for full membership.

If you’re worried about revenues declining because you’ve discounted memberships, run a pricing model to find the sweet spot for various dues levels. You might also consider offering sponsorship opportunities for the association’s vendors. Put their name on a scholarship or thank them for their commitment to young professionals in very public ways. Your association might also sponsor a program for hiring companies to pay association dues for their young professionals.

If you offer discounts or funding for memberships, be sure you’re collecting the data that will allow you to manage the program. Consider collecting the name of the college, university, or training program your younger members attended, so you’ll know which programs to contact. You might also want to collect graduation or certification dates to further segment your membership list.


Make Staying In Touch Easy and Rewarding

Young professionals are busy people. They may forget to update you with their first jobs or their contact information after graduation or certification. Use all the channels you can to remind them to update their records.

Remind them how the association can help their careers – and make a strong argument. You need to be sure that member benefits meet their needs. Add some for young professionals if they’re needed.


Offer Targeted Networking and Help in Finding Job Opportunities

As members, students and young professionals will have access to your entire membership list. Make sure they understand the association’s restrictions on using the membership list but encourage them to reach out to established members.

The membership list also provides students with a great list of prospective employers. Associations attract leaders in any industry, as well as smaller companies that need new employees. Students can use the list of companies as the beginning of their job search.


Offer Assistance for Certification or Licensure Exam Prep

In many professions, professionals are expected to pass certification or licensure exams. Associations can be instrumental in helping students prepare with prep courses and study aids. Members can offer tips and help with exams. And although they often work with limited budgets, students may find value in paying for help with exams.


Set a Positive Tone With Student Members

How your association interacts with student members will reveal to students how much the association values them. Contacts with your staff, website, and other members can establish a positive tone, or it can undercut all your other efforts.

Some associations have established a separate organization for student members. One of the most successful is the student association that operates in conjunction with the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). PRSSA, the Public Relations Student Society of America, has chapters across the United States and in several other countries, offers opportunities to college and university students, and operates its own website. Its success comes from the guidance provided by an Executive Council led by both PRSA and PRSSA members. Chapters in colleges and universities work closely with the national organization to help their students develop the skills, leadership, and portfolios that can launch their careers.


When in Doubt, Ask

Finally, if you have questions about what your student members need, what they want, and what keeps them renewing their memberships, ask them. Start with the student members in your association. Ask students who have let their membership lapse.

Ask students who have never joined your association why they haven’t. If you have an ongoing relationship with program administrators, the easier it will be to gain access to their students. Make sure your benefits are in line with student needs.

Student members are the future of your association. Be sure your association demonstrates how much it values them.

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