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Next-gen Membership and Your Association: Recruiting and Retaining Gen Z

Gen Z

Are you ready for Generation Z? Their oldest members are 24 now and they are entering the work force in a variety of professions and industries. They might just be the population that helps your association evolve in major ways. Here’s what you need to know about this audience of potential new members to develop strategies that feed your membership—and revenue—pipeline.

I’m sorry to say this, but all those things you learned about recruiting and retaining Millennials in your association no longer apply to your incoming newest and youngest members: Generation Z. As with any generation, Gen Z’s have several of their own unique characteristics shaped by the world they’ve come to know and the societal path they continue to carve. This isn’t a criticism. In fact, they have so much to offer your association if you’re ready for them. So, let’s get ready!


Who is Gen Z

First off, who is Gen Z?

Aside from the fact that Gen Z-ers are born between 1996 and 2010, let’s look at a few other important points. These will help jump start your thinking as you begin to assimilate Gen Z into an association member mindset and factor them into your revenue structure. According to the Center for Generational Kinetics, Gen Z is looking, “more like their practical Gen X parents than their wide-eyed Millennial predecessors; their experiences so far have taught them that life isn't going to be fair, it will be what they make it.” 

That said; we also know that Gen Z are…

  • Pragmatic – They are interested in tangible results, and they appreciate real value and have their feet planted firmly on the ground.
  • Seeking authenticity – They gravitate toward that which is transparent and authentic—it ranks high with them. They are not easily wowed by hype or marketing-speak; rather independent research helps establish the credibility they crave.
  • Short on attention span – They have the shortest of all generations thus far. Initial impact and easy-to-skim content rank high toward building engagement. You literally have seconds to win or lose them.
  • Digital natives – They grew up in a digital society and never knew a life before the internet. They expect a tech-forward, mobile-first experience from websites, learning, entertainment, news, and a lot of life.
  • Multi-taskers – They are hyper-connected and are used to constant updates from dozens of apps. Switching between different tasks and paying simultaneous attention to a wide range of stimuli comes naturally to them.
  • Video watchers – Being digital natives, their affinity for video content supersedes textual content. They watch to learn.
  • Champions of diversity – Inclusion and a sense of community matter a great deal. They are more diverse than any other generation before them. In fact, this will be the last generation with a Caucasian majority.
  • Lifelong learners – They understand that there’s a need for constant skill development to stay relevant.  This also hints at how competitive they are and how they like to work individually. They want to see their own skills make an impact and want to be judged on their own merits.
  • Face-to-face communicators – In workplaces dependent on email and instant message dialogs, Gen Z on the other hand likes to discuss things in person. Despite being rooted in digital activity, perhaps this is another way they strive to keep things authentic and balanced.
  • Setting new standards – Gen Z is not shy about changing expectations to conform to their needs, especially with creature comforts in professional settings. For instance, things like coffee bars, free secure wi-fi, phone charging stations, and healthy snacks aren’t looked at as perks, they are somewhat expected. Bear this in mind when you’re planning events and conferences. Share this with chapter leaders to consider for regional meetings. And for larger events, Gen Z will want all the bells and whistles – top shelf everything from celebrity guest speakers to big entertainment after meetings.

There are many more points we could highlight, and we also encourage you to discover some on your own


Recruiting and retaining Gen Z

When it comes to attracting Gen Z and building relationships with them, structuring your approach with these aspects in mind will be vital to developing membership growth strategies:

  • A healthy website – This cannot be emphasized enough. Your website absolutely, positively, without question, must fire on all (virtual) cylinders. Gen Z has zero tolerance for things that don’t work as they should—your website is no exception. It needs to offer a meaningful journey filled with engagement and succeed on any size device screen—especially mobile. Your website is your association’s storyteller, tour guide, librarian, and de facto command center. Therefore, routine health checks, SEO assessments, content governance, and making sure there are no embarrassing broken webpage links are a must. This will not only build confidence with Gen Z, but pretty much anyone who visits your site. And, there’s no sugar-coated way to say this: apps are nice, but not necessary. If your website fails at communicating with members and prospects there is no slick app in the world that is going to fix what’s really broken.
  • Promote diversity and inclusion – Gen Z already gets this and expects you to as well. In fact, they can become social media megaphones in this area for associations that embrace diversity and strive to grow more inclusive.
  • Launch a digital forum – In the same way that Quora matches questions with knowledge providers, a vibrant association digital forum can help attract Gen Z professionals to your association. A non-member space allowing potential members to tap into the hive mind of member experts can help build a meaningful relationship. This is also where carefully placed calls to action (CTAs) for membership can make this online destination a valuable recruitment tool. For association members, closed LinkedIn groups are one way to allow for peer-to-peer dialog that many can respond to and benefit from on a variety of trending issues.
  • Demonstrate social responsibility – Like diversity and inclusion, having an ethos where social awareness and action is demonstrated is important to Gen Z. If your association has a social responsibility approach, make sure its highly visible through all your communications channels. Volunteering is important to Gen Z to make society better than previous generations. If you don’t have a social responsibility commitment, you may not get commitment from Gen Z.
  • Brand awareness – Being aware of your association’s brand equity is more important than ever. This includes your social media properties as well as your website. You have to know your reputation in the digital space and where you stand in the mind of prospective Gen Z members, ignorance is not an option.
  • Sponsor professional development – Supporting an always-learning environment will keep Gen Z interested in the association’s growth as well as their own. It speaks to the stability they desire, and, in time, it can also promote loyalty within the organization.
  • Microlearning opportunities – Associations that have training programs and seminars (virtual and face-to-face) can better leverage these offerings to Gen Z by developing more quick-to-watch on-demand video modules. Remember, Gen Z grew up on YouTube, where everything you ever wanted to know how to do lives in digestible video form. Therefore, developing micro-modules has increased value. They can also be used in recruitment efforts pushed out via social media to reach Gen Z to give them a better idea about your association and its culture.
  • Digital communications – Even though this is a standard expectation, a rigorous and regular approach is truly required here for success. Gaps in messaging are detrimental. Blog posts with proprietary and curated information, emails for digital newsletters, publications and polls, and social media activity revolving around a well-planned editorial calendar are all a must. It’s also crucial to stay abreast of what digital messaging methods and channels are on the horizon.
Gen Z active association members

Imagine a future where Gen Z is an active, contributing part of your association’s membership

We’ve outlined who Gen Z is, how they view their world and interact with it, and have looked at the type of professionals they’re becoming. So, peering into the near future, what does your membership look like with Gen Z as a part of it?

  • They are your greatest ally in your association’s move deeper into technology to better serve members and respond proactively to the shifting expectations and engagement preferences of members. They're your sounding board about all things digital. If it’s out there they know it and can help your association keep in step. Survey them; get their opinions and tap into their knowledge. It’s a win-win because they stay engaged and feel like they are contributing, and you stay ahead of the digital curve, which even prepares you for the generation that follows Gen Z.
  • They are the ambassadors of your association’s social responsibility efforts. They become chapter leaders on causes that affect change and make meaningful contributions. They document activities and flood social media with authentic stories about what they and their colleagues – your members – are doing as volunteers. They are your guerilla PR team.
  • They are keeping your digital forums buzzing. The true digital natives are professionally contributing technical and experiential information about your industry, keeping the meaningful dialog fires burning. They’re posting and pasting links to videos that demonstrate their knowledge in areas they are passionate about. They are instrumental in helping your association recruit more members who comprise the Generation Z peer group and younger up-and-coming professionals as well.
  • They are the reason why you might decide to increase the number of virtual symposia to compliment your face-to-face events. These will become less expensive ways to connect with members on a more frequent basis in a fashion that is second nature to Generation Z. However, when it’s time for the face-to-face annual conference they will expect it to be like an association rock concert with all the stops pulled out because that’s how Gen Z rolls.

Of course, every member of a generation is an individual and will have their own individual traits. But keeping these Gen Z generalizations in mind can help you prepare to welcome and retain this new population as active, thriving members of your association.

We’d like to know what strategies you’re using now to increase association membership and revenue and how they may differ from those aimed at Generation Z. If you would like to discuss how SAI Digital can help your association grow, let's talk.




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