What have you done for me (young professionals) lately?

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the millennial generation and whether or not my peers would be willing to ascend into leadership positions over the next five to 10 years as their Baby Boomer counterparts began to retire—not because they’re not capable, but because “associations cling to traditional operating models that … have little appeal to young professionals” (to quote Harrison Coerver).

Needless to say, this post garnered a flurry of interest. Two particularly compelling comments follow:

  1. Morley Winograd: Our book, Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America, emphasized the very themes of a change in leadership that you talk about here. We believe the shift holds enormous promise for the non-profit world, including associations. The previous civic generation, GIs, created the social fabric of America’s towns–Kiwanis, Elks, etc. This civic generation, millennials, are creating the social fabric of America’s like-minded communities–on the web and in social media. Since associations are predicated on the common interests of those engaged in an activity or profession, they should be able to leverage this tendency on the part of millennials to gain new strength.
  2. Annie Gallagher: I joke with people and say for the first time ever we have what I call “four-play” in the workplace. This actually refers to the fact that there are currently four generations in the workplace at the same time. The boomer generation currently dominates leadership positions. Their energy and engagement are admirable. Yet most groups have not been successful in getting millennials engaged on a path to association leadership. You ask if they are interested. I am not sure. However, I have observed that the echo-boomers do not know how to get involved. Many groups claim to have young professional (YP) groups, but that is not enough. And guess what? The millennials do not want to just be by themselves. They want to be with the heavy hitters, too. So you need to mix it up. If you want to get millennials engaged, don’t give them a token YP group, really get them networked with all the centers of influence.

I was also reminded of a takeaway I jotted down during the LSAE annual convention two weeks ago. ASAE Chairman Peter O’Neil said the following during a session he led titled, Leadership Strategies for Today’s Association ExecutivesBoards today need to reflect where your organization is going in the future, including young people and people of color.

And I wholeheartedly agree; however, the implementation of this mandate is two-fold (and somewhat tedious).

First, young professionals must want to ascend into leadership positions (both staff and volunteer roles). And I believe that most do (note here that I’m intentionally referring to leadership roles in general and not necessarily an executive director position). They should also be poised with increasingly responsible experience, including prior exposure to committee work, task/project management, strategic planning, fundraising activities and member recruitment/retention efforts.

Second, and the more important component of this equation (similar to any diversity and inclusion discussion), is that every aspect of the organization must be positioned in such a way that pulls up these young professionals into leadership roles. Staff members, board members and other volunteer leaders must actively seek out and create opportunities to engage young professional leaders.

And not just by bringing them to the table (or by creating the token young professional group), but by giving them a meaningful platform upon which to speak and be heard. We’re hearing a lot these days about ideal board size, but just as important is ideal board composition and strategic initiatives designed to integrate diversity (including generational differences) throughout the organization.

This includes opportunities other than just board representation, too. Associations should consider engagement strategies that reflect the young professional perspective (especially those that intersect with the organization’s mission): building a personal brand, creating a portfolio of work, applying for the perfect job, balancing work and life, starting a new job, committee/meeting management, leadership, office politics, employer relations, professionalism, social media, promotions, moving on, networking, volunteering, donating (time and money), mentoring, education, professional designations, professional development, getting ahead and becoming a change agent.

So, my question to you is this (courtesy of Janet Jackson): What have you done for me (young professionals) lately? How do you engage this unique demographic beyond the requisite young professional group? How do you ensure their needs as members, prospective members and civic leaders are being met? How are you leveraging millennials (and their issues/interests) to ensure your organization remains strong and relevant well into the future?

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meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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