In yesterday’s #assnchat Twitter conversation (every Tuesday at 2pm eastern! Check it out!) an interesting tangential conversation popped up: college grads and young professionals don’t necessarily see “joining a professional association” as a required activity to be successful in their chosen professional fields.

Why New Grads Aren't Joining Your Association

There could be several reasons behind this shift, which unfortunately is impacting enrollment and attendance (and therefore the bottom lines) of associations all over.

Some of them are: 

1)   No Time for Anything Else

College grads these days are entering the workforce with more debt and less job opportunities than generations past. Between paying Sallie Mae and scrambling to advance their careers (which probably means a lot of overtime, a lot of weird hours and a lot of unpaid shadow and training time) there is just no room for extracurricular activities. As important as their careers are, it’s important for these emerging professionals to have a break to just have fun sometimes, too.


2)   Strapped for Cash

There’s a brutal truth out there for recent grads and emerging professionals. Many are entering the workforce under-employed or being paid less than their predecessors. When you bring in rising gas and cost of living expenses and loan payments, it’s easy to see why so many young professionals struggle financially. Dues just are out of reach on the budget sometimes.


3)   None of their peers are doing it

Even though the generation of emerging professionals prides themselves on being highly individualistic, they’re still more likely to join if their friends and close colleagues are already members or joining with them.  That’s a benefit for you as an association leader as well; not only does it mean more revenue, but also more attendance and higher gratification from members if they join and stick together.


4)   Their parents are still in the workforce

They may be retiring in a few years, but Mom and Dad are still in the workforce and in these associations. Possibly even leading them. Not that young professionals and new grads don’t have good relationships with their parents, but psychologically speaking the dynamic changes when there’s already an authority figure in place before you’ve even shown up. In joining an association, young professionals want the opportunity to show off, seize leadership, and grow. This will likely involve challenging the status quo and coming up with some never-before-tried ideas from new sources of inspiration. All of these things are great for your association, but that already-present parent/child dynamic (even in symbolism alone and there’s not an actual parent and child present) could upset the apple cart.


But probably the most important:

5)   Networking as we know it is changing

Why pay to attend a luncheon when you can meet these people online? Young, innovative professionals are more likely to circumvent the “traditional” ways of doing business by taking a more direct approach that can occasionally border on obnoxious without fear. A certain young professional (spoiler alert: it’s me) once emailed everyone with an office (as opposed to a desk or a cubicle because as we all know a door means POWER) in a particular department seeking guidance on advancing my career. While that’s not exactly advisable behavior, it eventually put me in touch with the right person who would later be my mentor and you can’t argue with results. All it takes is a click of a button to be connected with your future boss. Why sit around and listen to a panel discussion or pay $40 for a lunch to meet that same guy?


So now the big question is: how do we combat these apparent membership stumbling blocks and infuse our association with young, ambitious new members? 

There are a couple of things you can do, but ultimately it depends on what your association can afford and how many changes you are willing to make. Consider the following;

-Reduced or sliding-scale dues for recent grads

-College programs to catch them in involvement while they’re still studying

-Different events at untried times

-Make events have a small fee but available to non-members so they may choose to attend a la carte

-Set aside times for emerging professional special interest groups

-Recruit at companies rather than targeting individuals

-Pump up your social media efforts

-Encourage more senior or prominent members to be advocates for your association

Once they’re in, though, you have to keep them engaged. We can help you out here. Download our free guide to Membership Engagement for Small Staff Associations. Click below now!