decline in membership

Young People Aren’t Joiners … Or Are They?

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January 17 @ 10:37 pm CST

“Young people today just aren’t joiners.” How many times have you heard someone make that statement? It’s often used in frustration, accusing young people of being unreliable and unwilling to follow in another generation’s footsteps. It’s easy to point fingers and blame ‘kids these days’, simplifying it down to a generational stereotype — a pre-existing condition which repels young people from joining any membership organization. ‘Young people aren’t joiners’ is a frequently used answer, which means it’s the easiest answer. But it’s not the right answer. It’s true the decision to join an organization is accompanied with more consideration and scrutiny than in years past. From employers to faith-based groups, service clubs, and professional associations, people no longer connect to organizations simply because it’s what they are expected to do. There is a myriad of reasons why this happened, all tied to major social shifts, including but not limited to shifts in education, parenting, technology, demographics, politics, and economics. The bottom line? How we engage in and build community has changed and continues to change. So has the concept of ROI – return on investment. In 1994, associations experienced their first encounters with noticeable membership decline. At the time, Gen X was entering the workforce and when they didn’t immediately transition into membership, they became the first generation of non-joiners, referred to as slackers and the ‘what’s in it for me generation’. Regrettably, not much has changed since then. Membership decline has sustained, and I still hear leaders blaming young people for the organization’s impending ruin. If young people aren’t joining, there’s a reason why. At the core of our being, all people want to belong. We all need and want to be in community with others – and we all want to join a community supportive of our needs and interests. My years of research prove young people are joiners. However, they are seeking new and different ways to engage, and many organizations have struggled…

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Tired businessman sitting near declining arrow

Is your Membership Declining?

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January 17 @ 10:37 pm CST

In December 2020, Wild Apricot, a company that helps small membership organizations grow by providing tools and resources, released their 2020 Membership Growth Report. In this report, the group speaks to tactics and strategies to help organizations increase their memberships. They learned that 68% of organizations surveyed have had difficulty growing their membership; 25% did not grow at all; and 11% shrank. Wild Apricot turned to our expert, Sarah Sladek, CEO of XYZ University, with several questions about their findings. Here are Sarah’s responses. ‘Why are so many membership organizations struggling to grow?’ I’ve been researching membership engagement trends for 20 years and the simple fact is, membership decline occurs when associations aren’t responsive to the needs, interests, and expectations of their members. When membership decline first made headlines, there was this widespread belief that people aren’t “joiners” anymore. The reality is, we’ve experienced numerous social disruptions in recent decades, and these disruptions have directly influenced shifts in buying behaviors, communication preferences, and values. How members engage in associations and what they want from their membership experiences has changed — and will continue to do so. Change is a constant now. Unfortunately, many associations have held steadfast to tradition, resisted change, and backburnered innovation. They forgot they were membership associations and stopped putting their members’ needs and interests first. ‘What do you think membership organizations need to do in 2021 and beyond to remain relevant?’ First and foremost, know what members need, want, and expect. To stay relevant and valuable, associations must understand their community’s needs and what behaviors and deliverables will drive future success. This requires surveying members and opening up channels for ongoing feedback and dialogue. I’d also urge associations to deploy a diversified membership strategy that relies on the introduction of new revenue streams, outreach to engage new audiences, and being intentional about bringing new voices and skillsets into the association’s decision-making roles. Going forward, it will be critical that associations serve the…

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