How to Meet the Membership & Education Expectations of Millennials and Gen Z


Generation Z and young Millennials are different. New research shows they have much greater price sensitivity and much lower brand loyalty than older generations. Their price sensitivity isn’t a surprise considering their:

•    Student loan debt
•    Weakened job prospects
•    Low earnings
•    Lack of employer support for membership and professional development

Young professionals (YPs) are joiners, but they can’t afford to join associations or participate in association programs just because it’s the right or expected thing to do. However, they will join and participate if they believe the ROI you offer is worth the short-term sacrifice to their budget—and you design and market programs that meet the education expectations of Millennials and Gen Z.

The 4 Education Expectations of Millennials and Gen Z

You can try to bring YPs into your association as members, but you might have more success bringing them into your professional community as audience members. Attract their interest, and prove your relevance with targeted information and education. Keep these four factors in mind as you prove to them that you understand their situation and can provide what they need.

#1: Affordability

Young professionals are experiencing a budget crunch for the first time in their lives. They’re dealing with these high costs of adulthood on a meager paycheck:

•    Student loan debt
•    Rent
•    Household expenses
•    Vehicle, ride-sharing, or public transport
•    Work clothes
•    Healthcare deductibles

Hardly any money is left over for discretionary spending, like association membership or professional development.

But YPs are hungry to get ahead. Employment website Monster learned that “more than three-quarters of Gen Zers are ready to own their career paths and advance themselves accordingly—and almost half want to be business owners.” From the sidelines, this generation watched the recession and resulting lay-offs. They want stability and control of their destiny.

They see headlines about high schools and colleges failing to prepare graduates for today’s jobs—and they realize they’re living proof. They know they need professional development, networking, and career resources to develop the right skills, advance in their career, and design their own future.

But, here’s the bad news for associations: Personify surveyed 1,000 Millennial and Generation Z association members for their Young Members 2.0 report. Almost half of them said membership does not provide a strong return on investment.

Confused Young Professional on laptopn trying to find association education programsPut yourself in a YP’s shoes. They make the big decision (and financial sacrifice) to join an association. Then they receive email after email asking them to spend even more money to register for a webinar, attend an online course, or sign up for a career service. What’s up with all this nickel-and-diming? They paid dues and now they’re expected to keep paying to enjoy all these membership “benefits?”

Consider a different membership model for YPs. Create a membership tier that includes a selection of targeted educational content and career resources. These special programs give them a taste of your professional development and enough educational content to push them along their career path.

Look into budget-friendly dues payment options, such as a monthly auto-renewal or a quarterly dues payment plan, so YPs can afford to join your association in the first place. It’s worth sacrificing a bit of revenue now to gain the loyalty of young professionals. When they’re in a position to spend more, the association that “gets” them will be top of mind.

#2: Relevance

Personify learned why young association members value their membership:

•    Opportunity to learn new relevant skills
•    Chance for networking and socializing
•    Access to exclusive benefits and perks
•    Inside track on job opportunities
•    Access to industry conferences and events

Keep these goals in mind as you develop educational programs and career resources for YPs. Both YPs and their employers are looking for programs to help them bridge industry skills gaps. Colleges are not preparing their graduates for the workplace. YPs need help developing technical (hard) and human (soft) skills. They also seek opportunities for peer networking, cross-generational learning, and informal/formal mentoring.

YPs expect educational programs to offer current, up-to-date information. We’re living in a 24/7 news world. Outdated content is a huge red flag, and YPs won’t accept any excuses for it.

They’ve grown up with personalized news feeds and playlists, and have brought those expectations to their educational experience. Provide learning pathways for different early career needs, positions, and skill sets.

#3: On-demand

Millennial male professional with headset using laptop to access association online learning program

The on-demand economy also drives YP expectations. Netflix, Spotify, and other brands provide on-demand content accessible from any device for a reasonable monthly fee. Do you?

The younger generations are always connected. Nearly a quarter of Gen Zs spend 10 or more hours on their smartphones every day, and 66 percent of them use more than one device simultaneously.

Your education must be lifestyle friendly: on-demand, mobile, and bite-sized. Microlearning is the way to go not only for this generation but also for any audience of busy professionals.

YPs expect your website and learning platform to provide the same user experience they get on other sites. Make sure yours provides intuitive navigation, relevant search results, quick and easy checkout experience, and secure payment process.

#4: Social influence and reputation

YPs grew up in a world of Amazon and Yelp reviews, and brand influencers on YouTube and Instagram. Word-of-mouth marketing drives their buying decisions. Personify found that many of the YP members they surveyed were recruited by someone they knew. Don’t underestimate the importance of influencers, membership ambassadors, and loyal fans.

According to Gen Z Insights: “This is a generation that values the opinions of others, whether they read them online or hear them in person… This digital-savvy generation knows that reviews and social media are easily manipulated. That’s why recommendations from people they trust have become more important than ever.”

Take advantage of word-of-mouth marketing by offering “refer-a-friend” coupon codes—one for the new learner and one for the referring friend.

Invest time in social media marketing and digital advertising, especially on Instagram and Snapchat. But don’t just use those channels to promote, cultivate an engaging presence.

Share the success stories and testimonials of young professionals. Personify found that “career-focused messaging appears to be the most effective in getting young members to join as they look to organizations who provide content that can help them learn.”

YPs aren’t only dealing with financial pressure, their social status is under constant pressure too. They’ve been sharing their lives on social platforms for as long as social media has been around.

Help YPs boost their social status. Give them opportunities to have a voice, take on leadership roles, and become influencers. Digital badges allow YPs to display their skills and knowledge to peers and employers. Invite them to participate in advisory groups that help your association understand their needs and develop relevant programs.

Young professionals need the benefits offered by association membership and professional development—but on their terms. You must provide relevant, affordable programs that deliver a high return on their investment of time and money.



This blog post was originally published on the Association Learning Blog by WBT Systems.
Michelle Brien is VP of Marketing & Product Strategy at WBT Systems and a member of .OrgCommunity.
WBT Systems develops TopClass LMS and is a proud sponsor of Solutions Day 2019.

Position Your Organization For Success

Join .orgCommunity today for free.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter