In 2021, your marketing efforts should be oriented towards Millennials and Generation Zers. These two generations are distinguished by their unique experiences across the last four decades, with COVID-19 creating the most drastic overturn in their consumer expectations.

In 2020, Millennials and Gen Z accounted for 60% of the working population in the U.S. And yet, Marketing General’s 2020 Member Benchmarking survey found that young professionals only represent about a quarter of association membership. 

This gap represents a huge opportunity for member-based organizations. 

As you develop programs for your association, conduct member research, and identify the behavioral patterns of young professionals – you have likely noticed significant shifts between 2020 to 2021. 

This 2020 report conducted by Community Brands found that:

  • 51% of members described their association as more significant to them post-pandemic
  • 74% of members say they would find the means to pay all required membership dues (even if their employer did not contribute). 

With this in mind, it’s time to use these external influences to your advantage. 

Read on to learn about the barriers that could be keeping you from your goals. Plus, get solutions geared towards your audience of young professionals. Hum helps associations exceed their revenue goals by using real-time data to power custom digital experiences.

We are here to help you carve a path for success that’s both profitable, and sustainable!

Understanding Young Members – Millennials and Gen Z


Millennials account for the largest population within the current workforce, yet only represent 21% of association members

Often, the discrepancy for association enrollment is a result of miscommunication with this audience. They do not feel understood by corporations, large entities, or associations. 

Association Takeaways for Millennial Experience in 2021:

  • They’re Depressed - The CDC reports that Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic has been at 40% for U.S. adults. The Millennial age group is at the highest likelihood of experiencing anxiety and depression.
  • They’re Stressed – Zippa says, Millennials experience more stress from organization and job changes than every other generation.” 
  • They’re Scared of Debt – The average millennial has a student-loan debt of $29,900 as of January 2021.  This is less than their parents (Baby Boomers and early Generation-X); however, witnessing their parental figures fall victim to debt and money stress has developed sizable trauma; (Boomers with an average debt of $75,000, Generation Xers with $69,000, and Millennials at $52,000, according to Fidelity’s Annual Snapshot of America’s Student Debt).  

Learn more about Millennials in our Inside the Millennial Mind Infographic.

Generation Z

While Gen-Zers arethe least likely to report good/excellent mental health,” 2020-2021 has been a particularly challenging time for them to be entering the workforce.

The good news is that Gen Z is by far the most entrepreneurial generation. It’s very likely that given the right approach and set of experiences, these youngsters will be highly engaged association members for years to come.

Association Takeaways for the Generation Z Experience in 2021:

  • They’re Digital Natives – They’ve never experienced life without smart devices, and their world is analog. If you want to target their engagement, you should provide digital content, social media engagement, interactive games, and e-learning tools. 
  • They’re Lonely – Reportedly the loneliest generation with the lowest reports for mental health, this is a group of innovators that lack confidence. As the world becomes more introverted and digitized, associations can take advantage of this by offering opportunities for networking, socialization, and moral support. 
  • They’re Untrusting of Structure – Seeking freedom and self-sufficiency (similarly to Millennials), they’re more likely to join an organization that offers flexibility, options to cancel, and progressive models. 
  • They’re Frugal – Even more so than Millennials, Generation Zers do not want to be bogged down by financial burdens. They are the least likely of all generations to take on new subscriptions such as an annual membership fee. 

Learn more about Millennials in our Understanding Gen Z Infographic.


The 8 Ways to Develop Your Membership Lifecycle 

With these demographic details in mind, consider how you can bridge the gap to better serve these young members. 

Ideally, you want your members to increasingly take on responsibilities within your organization, acting as ambassadors for your organization. You can only accomplish this with a long-term plan. 

Here are 8 ways to develop your membership lifecycle for young members:

#1 Understand Their Expectations

You’re doing this now – Research! Create ongoing investigations of your target and update them regularly. And don’t just rely on general market research. Invest in tools that will help you understand your existing membership on a behavioral level.  

These two generations have high levels of expectations and are flooded with more information than any generation before. By developing customized content that remains benefits-oriented, you can place your message at the forefront of your association’s marketing efforts. 

As you learn to empathize with their expectations/limitations/struggles, you can neutralize their constraints.

#2 Experiences Should be Connected, and Digital First

Digital experiences are the future of business. Traditionally, Association programming has revolved around a flagship annual event, but it’s time to adjust your planning to make room for more robust digital experiences. 

Now is the point at which you should be considering your association’s experiences in terms of connected activities. These channels should be synchronous across all digital channels (not solely your association’s website). The technological strategy should involve audience intelligence, which we discuss more in-depth in our FREE 2021 Personalization Report that is filled with insights for associations.

Millennials are on their mobile device 5.7 hours per day while Generation Zers are on their mobile device 4.25 hours per day. A critical aspect to understanding your audience is understanding which platforms they engage on: 


  1. Facebook –  The largest demographic on Facebook, ranging between the ages of 25 and 34. Approximately 88% of Millennials have a Facebook and “over half of them use the platform regularly.”  
  2. Instagram – Their second favorite.
  3. YouTube  - 44% of Millennials check YouTube daily.
  4. LinkedIn – Highly valuable for a career-oriented association 

Generation Z 

  1. TikTok – The #1 platform for Gen Z teenagers as well as young consumers.  
  2. Instagram
  3. YouTube
  4. Snapchat
  5. Twitter

If you want to attract the younger demographic of professionals, you must filter the information in a way that is:

  • Visually impactful
  • Easily-digestible
  • And most importantly, sharable

#3 Personalize and Humanize

Those clinging to chat-bots as a human extension of their product or service will simply not cut it in the years to come. Consumers in 2021 are already accustomed to personalization. However, in the future, they will come to expect nothing less than humanization. 

You may think of personalization in terms of emails that begin with ‘Hi Jennifer.’ Our take is that personalization has a different meaning in 2021, and humanization is a step beyond. Humanization scales technology for relevant communication that actually feels sentient. 

Personalization is responsible for increasing the relevancy of your message to that recipient, while humanization leads to that foundation of trust. Stimulating a ‘kinship’ humanization is proven to increase behavioral advocacy rates and client retention. 

A study conducted by Harvard finds that 95% of purchases are subconscious, justified by emotional determinations. This means joining decisions aren’t just based on listed benefits of membership. You must also make potential members see how membership relates to the realization of professional goals and aspirations. 

This is the strategy behind personalization combined with humanization. 

You can have one without the other.

But we don’t advise it. 

#4 Simplify Your Membership Path

If potential members have to jump through hoops to join your association, they won’t do it—point-blank. Exclusivity is one thing, but too many hurdles could be costing you member enrollment. 

Other models worth considering are a la carte memberships or atypical structures. Membership doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Consider allowing your members to pick and choose the pieces of the membership that make the most sense for them.

Take inspiration from LinkedIn Premium. Members often utilize the premium benefits as they search for a job. Once the position is attained, they may scale back down to the non-premium services at a lower monthly rate. Consider how your organization might build flexible resources like this into your offers.

Make it easy. 

Create a user interface on your website that feels:

  • Natural
  • Intuitive
  • And focused on your call-to-action: To join

Ask yourself if the website clearly displays:

  1. The value you offer
  2. The benefits a new member will receive
  3. An easy way to join the association

#5 Develop Relevant Campaigns

At every step of your communications funnel, ask yourself, “what does a potential member need to know to make a decision.” Then, give them that information - no more, no less. Your communication strategy should feel valuable and informative. Don’t just send out communication for the sake of staying connected - your young members won’t respond well to that tactic. 

If your emails feel like spam, you run the risk of permanent unsubscribes. As difficult as it is to obtain contact information in the first place, do not waste your invested resources by losing a warm lead.

Develop campaigns and follow-up that can be used in multi-channel marketing, such as:

  • A welcome series for new members – Executed via email, content geared towards new members, and even personalized new member experiences on-site, if your tech stack can make it happen.
  • An abandoned check-out for those that nearly enrolled – A chance to incorporate the humanization to nudge potential members. Be careful to use this technique sparingly to avoid over-contacting them. Determine the right points in their journey to offer a nudge that feels supportive and not boisterous. 

The point of developing campaigns is to nurture your current and prospective members and to give them the information they need to keep their interest. 

Likewise, remember the Rule of 7 Touches in Marketing

It takes time to build trust. 

Do not expect results right away. Remain consistent. 

#6 Respond To Their Career Path

Differentiate and segment your communications based on their current landscape and future goals. For example, if they are joining your organization:

  • At the start of their college career – Offer programs that support their collegiate journey (such as speaking engagement, opportunities to improve their resume, etc.)
  • At the end of their college career – Mirror their matured career efforts by offering career-oriented benefits (such as specialized training, exclusive job fair invitations, opportunities to grow their skills, chances to network, etc.) 

By offering value that realizes where they are in their journey, you can offer them something they genuinely want (and will pay for). 

#7 Incentivize Them

Attract your prospects with an incentive that addresses their concerns. This may include:

  • A discount for future events
  • An invitation to a digital event 
  • A free e-book on relevant content (solving a problem for them, ‘Guide Book for Simplified College Enrollment,’ – ask yourself what they need). 
  • Promotions such as:
    • ‘3 Complimentary Chapter Meetings’ so they can sample your association’s services. 
    • ‘1 Night Trial – Test Your Public Speaking Abilities for Resume-Worthy Experience!’
    • Membership Referral Rewards,’ to gain word-of-mouth marketing from existing members.

By starting with a smaller commitment (such as a free event), you can get their foot in the door for the more significant commitment of enrolling their membership. 

#8 Build a Community

No matter your mission, ultimately, your goal is to foster a community that supports your industry. Attracting the right young professionals to continue to grow and engage your bustling community is so important. It’s even more critical during a global pandemic, where association members are isolated and the status quo for work-life has completely changed.

Find people that believe in your mission by utilizing relevant hashtags, search words, and platforms that sync with your association’s objectives.

Message them directly and use the power of invitation in your everyday outreach. Remain consistent in your campaign efforts, and don’t be afraid of experimentation. Listening to your audience and asking them direct questions has been (and will always be) the easiest way to obtain feedback. 


How to Keep Young Members Engaged 

Seasoned association execs know that finding new members is only half the battle. Next, you must keep members engaged. Ultimately, the goal should be to modernize your digital strategy, given the shifting ways that professionals consume information and grow their careers. 

Here are a few ideas, with young professionals in mind:

Expand Their Network

Most young professionals join an association to connect with similar professionals. Young members already view LinkedIn as their main networking platform. Ask yourself how your networking experiences beat the ones members can get elsewhere.

You can:

  • Create more online events
  • Initiate more networking opportunities that blend digital and in-person experiences
  • Blend your networking with skill-building development or learning-based workshops
  • Develop a mentorship matching program by clearly identifying your members’ future objectives

Provide Career Mentorship

Studies show that strong mentorship leads to faster career growth. Understandably, mentorship is often the #1 thing young professionals are looking for when it comes to professional growth resources. Help them by:

  • Hosting job fairs/job conferences/mentorship webinars
  • Developing mentorship programs
  • Leading one-on-one career counseling services for your members
  • Providing leadership training
  • Hosting mid-Career and/or management track-focused panels
  • Offering opportunities to speak, train, or share their skills with earlier-career members
  • Hosting job-seeking courses
  • Sharing Interview tips
  • Sharing resume/cover letter edits 
  • Developing personality assessments for career matching 

Help them plan for their future, and you’ll become an indispensable resource. 

Design Employer Support Strategies

Employers have a significant influence on a young professional engaging with an association. Even if you gain the interest of a young professional, they may not be able to afford your organization without the support of their employer. 

Consider the employers’ points of view and establish yourself as a solution to their problems. Think about:

  • What does my association offer to an employer? 
  • How will they benefit? 
  • How can I solve a problem for the employer? 

Answers may include:

  • Well-rounded, upskilled employees
  • Access to key industry partners/relationships  via association connections
  • Access to a broader pool of innovative industry professionals that the employer may want to hire one day



This demographic of 140+-million young professionals should not be underestimated or overlooked.

It is essential to understand the makeup of your membership to unpack common barriers of new-member enrollment. By focusing on benefits, value, and encouraging their participation, you will find that young professionals that are a naturally good fit for your association. If you can continue to evolve alongside their growing careers, you will earn their loyalty and annual membership renewal. 

The key will be to broaden your scope within this digital landscape, adapting with the times to offer superior benefits (in a sea of benefits).

For more tips and tricks for associations operating in a digital-first landscape, browse our blog. And when you’re ready to get serious about a technology solution to bring these digital strategies to life at your organization, contact us.

We’d love to show you how Hum can solve your new member retention problem and much more!