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Can we talk about millennials?

Can we talk about millennials? I know, I know, everyone keeps talking about millennials but if you have 2 minutes to spare I have a slightly different take on the whole ‘we must engage millennials’ pandemic sweeping the association and NFP sector.

We should stop trying. Well sort of. In essence, the question being asked ‘how do we engage millennials’ is flawed. We can’t engage with people who do not want to be engaged with. A more relevant and productive question to ask would be ‘when do we engage millennials’.

I’m a millennial (for my sins) and if I were to have joined a professional association in my first ‘career’ I absolutely, categorically would not be a member of that organisation now. A quick google reveals that I am not alone in this.

Career change statistics suggest that the average person will be making a career change approximately 5-7 times during their working life[1]

Using myself as a very small focus group, I have worked in Public Relations – specifically travel, healthcare and subsequently FMCG with a focus on food. I have also worked for a television production and distribution company sourcing sponsorship and funding. And now, I work in business development in the Association Sector. Oh – and about 5 years ago I had a brief but lovely stint working in a kitchen and restaurant supplies shop whilst I figured out ‘what next’.

A lot of the ‘answers’ provided to the question ‘how do we attract millennials’ focusses on infiltrating their lives as early as possible. Student association memberships are designed to draw in young members with the intention of retaining them forever. But is this the right time to push an association membership? Do students and young professionals understand the value of an experienced industry network? Honestly? Probably not. Being realistic, new professionals have a raft of concerns and priorities and association membership is unlikely to be one of them.

So, are we wise to spend money and resources on convoluted campaigns to attract these people? Or, should we allocate the same money and resourcing to identifying when professionals settle and their priorities shift. Picking the right time for an approach is almost as important as the approach itself. We see it all the time – the best time to hold an event, post on Facebook, run a webinar, launch a new product. All these things have extensive research behind them to support the fact that choosing the right time to ask someone for something will have a positive outcome.

At present, there is a lot of noise about engaging millennials in the sector. Associations are spending money and time on digitising and revising their benefits, community and sometimes even purpose. I am sure that more often or not these are all positive changes but could we maximise the outcome simply by asking when before we ask how?

So, tell me, when did you first join an association? Did you consider joining earlier / later? I would be really interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences on the subject. Please click her to visit our LinkedIn page and comment on the article post.

Francesca Roland is a millennial and Business Development Team Leader at TAS.