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Understanding Association Culture From The Eyes of a Millennial

Posted By Erik Hillesheim, Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Having worked in the association industry for about six months now, I’ve had the opportunity to see the ins and outs of a variety of associations. One of the most unique parts of associations is their culture. I was struck by an Associations Now article by Joe Rominiecki that says,

“Associations have a unique relationship with organizational culture, as the organization is at once a collection of employees and a collection of members. Though they overlap, that’s two very different scopes, internal and external, in which a culture exists and, importantly, in which it can be influenced. For-profit organizations, on the other hand, likely don’t worry much about changing their customers’ culture (as long as it involves buying).”

Culture is a complex beast that associations have to master in order to stay relevant. While benefits may differ among associations and across industries, a few key components of culture stay consistent across the board. Here’s my take on where they stand and how they’ll need to adapt in order to cater themselves to younger generations.



          Now: Through a few annual conferences and golf outings, associations allow members to connect with one another. This aspect is a big part of sharing industry findings and best practices. Members can make meaningful and lasting connections through sessions, round tables, and double bogeys.

          Soon: As much as older generations think we can’t hold a conversation with anyone without using FaceTime or Skype, it’s simply not true. In an ultra-connected world, networking has taken on an integral role in who we are. Ensuring that annual conferences provide opportunities for small group conversations and that associations offer opportunities for small meet ups outside of large scale events will be a huge benefit going forward. Associations must also integrate networking opportunities with technology. Twitter chats, webinars, and opportunities to submit articles/opinions are all great ways to promote networking.



          Now: Very rarely can you recruit and retain members without a certain level of trust involved. Trust comes through interactions and time, both things that associations need to nurture. By hosting conferences, committee meetings, lunch and learns, and dinners, associations are trying to boost meaningful interactions between members.

          Soon: By offering more ways for members to interact open-endedly and pushing leading them towards these avenues, people will trust each other more, co-creating value within the association. Associations are doing a decent job offering in person interactions, but they must also think to create more roads for their members to drive down without needing a map. One way to boost trust through interactions is to use social media. By posting meaningful and useful content, members will start dialogues and push each other to participate, challenging industry standards and helping each other out. Trust =Retention.


Continuing education

            Now: Many associations are offering various courses, virtual and in person, to help professionals retain a wealth of updated knowledge that they can apply to their profession. They have begun to dabble in the ways of Webinars and online courses, in addition to informational sessions at annual events. This is a great first step that only needs some minor additions.

          Soon: Associations are starting to adopt the correct platforms to cater to millennials, they just need to continue promoting these platforms in new ways. Making sure that they are easily accessible and promoted widely on the interwebs is essential to continuing education initiatives. Another important point to make is that younger generations are fascinated about thinking differently and in an innovative way. The cookie cutter continuing education session won’t cut it. Try to think horizontally in your industry. How could you create an interesting session or webinar that is related to something hot in a similar industry and apply it to your member’s day to day? Associations are just like any other business; they must innovate.



In order to capture millennials and ensure your association stays relevant you must constantly be looking on the horizon for new and exciting areas to explore. I’d love to hear how you’ve been able to adapt as an association to appeal to a wide variety of generations.



Rominiecki, Joe. "Where Membership and Culture Meet." RSS 20. Associations Now, 07 Jan. 2015. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.

Tags:  associations  culture  millennials 

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