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Emily Nash

By: Emily Nash on October 9th, 2020

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Gen Z and Beyond - Recruiting the Next Generation of Members

Membership Growth | Adapting new technologies | new generations

mailto:demo@example.com?Subject=HighRoad Solutions - interesting article

If you think the word “Millennial” applies to any young person, then here’s a scary fact: the Millennials will start turning 40 next year.

The current generation emerging from college is Generation Z, a cohort with an entirely different set of goals and values. And for associations, this means a whole new set of challenges. Already, 56 percent of associations say that they’re struggling to engage young professionals.

So how can associations attract younger Millennials, Gen Z, and beyond?

Why attract new generations?

Baby Boomers were the 20th century’s biggest generational shift. They seized the opportunities that arose after the war, and they built entire industries from the ground up. Boomers are the backbone of most associations, stalwart members who joined in college and volunteered for every committee.

And now they’re retiring.

Around 10,000 Boomers will leave the workforce every day between now and 2030. Associations need to recruit at an equivalent speed just to maintain current membership levels, never mind achieving growth targets.

But that’s not so straightforward. Young people don’t see association membership as an inevitable step on their career path, which is why just 38 percent of associations are experiencing growth. For the other two-thirds of associations, membership numbers are staying flat, or even in decline.

Membership decay is the death of any association. The good news is that it’s not inevitable. The emerging generation still wants all the benefits of association membership, such as the chance to grow, to learn, to network, and to participate in advocacy.

But Gen Z is not like the generation before them. They don’t think or act like their grandparents. If you want to engage them, you have to understand what makes them tick.

5 Tribes of Gen Z

Professional life has completely changed since the Boomer’s heyday:

  • The gig economy has replaced jobs for life
  • Collaboration has replaced the corporate hierarchy
  • Inclusiveness is essential at every level
  • Homeownership happens in mid- to late-career, if at all
  • The internet is the platform for most professional learning
  • Networking is mostly online, although there’s still a great demand for face-to-face interaction

Maybe the biggest change in professional life is that people now follow their own path, rather than a conventional career track. The white-collar monoculture of the 20th century is gone; now, people tackle professional life in unique ways.

Terms like “Millennial” and “Gen Z” are really umbrella terms for a group of distinct tribes. To understand how to appeal to these cohorts, you need to understand the distinct personality of the various sub-groups.

Let’s took at the five main tribes that you need to recruit to your association:


Nomads aren’t tied down to geography. Even less so in an age of remote working, in which it’s possible to telecommute to the office from the other side of the world. These professionals like to stay agile and take advantage of all available opportunities, regardless of location.

They’re also nomads in a more philosophical sense. They tend not to be bound by social conventions, and instead they seek out like-minded people who share their values. As a group, they’re tied together by micro-cultures and social causes.

How to engage with Nomads

Your digital offering is an essential part of marketing to this tribe. They may not be interested in local meetings or conferences. Instead, they’ll be interested in digital communities, large e-learning libraries, and the chance to contribute from anywhere.

You can also help to create subcommittees that support this tribe’s various micro-cultures. They’ll value the chance to connect with people who care about the same issues, such as inclusiveness, environmentalism, and remote working.

2—Digital Divas

Digital divas are connected to influencer culture, and may be influencers themselves. This potentially makes them excellent advocates and ambassadors – if you can get them to join.

Members of this tribe are highly tech-savvy. They care a lot about the quality of digital services. They’re also content connoisseurs, who can immediately tell if your online programming isn’t up to scratch.

How to engage with Digital Divas

What this tribe wants more than anything else is authenticity. They like to connect with people and organizations that have a clear, trustworthy voice. To connect with them, you need to make sure that all of your communication is connected to your association’s values.

They also like content that highlights real people, such as testimonials from members like them. Social responsibility is essential for this group, so make sure you focus on how your association is good for the community as a whole.


The structure of society has changed for younger people. Instead of a unified culture with a top-down structure, the world is now more diverse, diffuse, and collaborative. The Polti-Fly tribe are the ambassadors of this new world. They’re hyper-connected and politically active. Their perception of society is shaped by movements like BLM and #metoo, and they’re increasingly concerned with climate change.

Politics is important to most of Gen Z, but Politi-Fly people try to live their political values every day. They want to be involved in organizations that share their values of inclusiveness and cultural diversity. Long-term, they’d prefer to make a difference than to make a profit.

How to engage with Politi-Fly people

Members of this group may be drawn to your association’s advocacy work. Associations provide an important voice for members, often leading to substantial political change. This tribe will want to be involved in that change.

You can appeal to this tribe by creating volunteer opportunities and giving them a chance to connect with like-minded individuals. Make sure that your communication ties into your values, and that your values are as forward-thinking as theirs.

4—Touchy Feely

Gen Z has lived through two global financial catastrophes and one pandemic, plus they have the long-term uncertainty of climate change. It’s no wonder that many of them are feeling the burden. For some, this is expressed as a kind of melancholy. Often, members of this tribe may be dealing with anxiety or depression.

But unlike previous generations, this tribe is speaking out. They’re positive and proactive about mental health and well-being, and they believe in maintaining a healthy work-life balance. They want to build communities and collaborate with people who share their values.

How to engage with Touchy Feely people

This is another tribe that values authenticity above all else. They tend to be highly media-literate and can see right through marketing speak. What they want is an association that speaks the warts-and-all truth about the challenges and opportunities that await them.

This tribe is highly collaborative, and they will thrive in an association environment. What they need from you is a chance to network and connect. Meetings, symposiums, and networking events will appeal to them, as will digital communities where they can talk to their peers.

5—Thriving and thrifty

Not only is Gen Z facing an uncertain financial future, but they’re also starting with a worrying financial burden. College debt is a massive concern for most young people. It has an impact on their long-term career choices, as they look for opportunities to break even.

It also has an effect on their spending choices. Forget the “avocado toast” stereotype; this tribe is counting every penny. Before they invest in association membership, they will carefully weigh the alternatives.

How to engage with Thriving and Thrifty people

This group loves a bargain, so you can attract them with discounts and special offers. Be sure to use marketing automation techniques to send them targeted offers that suit their needs.

Most of all, this tribe seeks value. They will invest in association membership if they see that it will provide a return. Emphasize the ways your association can help them through things like education, experience, certification, and networking opportunities. Position yourself as a partner, ready to help them grow their career in the long term.

How to engage younger members

All of these tribes have one thing in common. They all demonstrate a high level of digital engagement, which is your best option for connecting with them.

You’ll need the right platforms in place. Your marketing tech stack should include elements like:

  • Integration and management tools to activate the data that you have
  • eLearning tools and digital educational content
  • Managed social media presence on channels like Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn
  • Multichannel communication tools, including IM, text and WhatsApp
  • Virtual events with active participation
  • Marketing automation with behavioral messaging
  • User-generated content in social media and email marketing

Most important of all, you need an authentic voice. Members should know that you’re a trustworthy voice, offering real and reliable information about the current state of your industry.

The best way to get this voice is to stay true to your values. Don’t patronize or pander to younger members. They’ll see right through you. Instead, focus on what your association stands for and how you can help their careers.

It’s also important to bring your existing Gen Z members into your marketing plans. Talk to them and find out what young members are concerned about, what excites them, and what the association means to them.


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About Emily Nash

With a unique background in start-ups-to-studios, and consulting-to-corporate settings, Emily specializes in solving for unknowns, pioneering new services, and collaborating with marketers and strategists. In her community, she served on the board of American Institute for Graphic Arts as their Communications Director to help promote networking and mentorship opportunities for area designers and creatives. She’s also a co-producer for Rethink Association, a podcast for associations.