“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 to understand and respond to their requests. Simply stated, decline occurs when organizations use ineffective, outdated practices and alienate new people with new ideas.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The future you want for your association is within reach, but you’re not going to get there using the same strategies that have been used for the past several decades.

There’s much about membership and what drives engagement and growth which remains largely unknown. That’s why I’m launching a new podcast titled Membership Monday.