News & Insights

Recruiting New Members – An Existential Crisis?

In his first Blog for Parliament Hill, Dr Mark Pegg explores the barriers to recruiting younger members.

Most membership organisations know how much harder it’s become to attract new, young members. Born after 1995, Generation Z are entering adulthood and organisations must engage with these young people if they want them to join. It is a non-trivial matter – a long period of low recruitment is an existential crisis in waiting.  The paramount importance of future income is self-evident, but it is much more than this: it’s about the lifeblood, vibrancy, diversity and age profile of the organisation, its sustainability and ultimately its very survival.   

Easier said than done.  This is a problem long on analysis and short on solutions.  Can we find more on the latter than the former?

Most of us think we know why they are not joining.  The generational climate is incredibly tough just now.  The House of Lords Committee on Intergenerational Fairness recently warned the social compact between old and young is endangered by a tenuous gig-economy, zero hours jobs, unaffordable housing, spiralling student loans leading to very low disposable income.   Even the ‘B’ word raises its ugly head – in the EU referendum YouGov reports how 71% of under 25 voters, voted to remain compared to 64% of over 65s who voted leave.

How can membership organisations reach out to them more effectively and kick the trend?

It is a no brainer: they need persuading this is for them, with entry level fee rates and a package that focuses on networking, learning and support.  Most membership organisations will have thought of this and be doing it already.  But are they looking to employ interns to tap into their outlook and ideas, or to use them as cheap labour?  Are you offering things they are interested in - competitions to enter, with travel or technology prizes, are you giving them recognition, encouraging them to write and blog for you, are you actively listening to and acting on what they say?  

Older members correctly perceive the young as digital natives, using a completely different world of social networking to communicate with each other.  This may be a good pointer to changing the favoured mode of communication – online, social media, keeping the Twitter and Instagram sites working daily.  Cut the physical mailings and magazines: they won’t read them.  

A warning here to challenge any tendency to stereotypical thinking.  Academic research shows again and again that just like any other groups of humans, generations are made up of individuals and there are wide variations in their attitudes and behaviours.  The generational landscape is complex with many different influences and variables: Gen Z may be seen by others as tech savvy, but tech skill levels are as varied as any other generation. Ipsos Mori research shows Gen Z in many countries drink less, smoke less, take drugs less, engage in sexual activity less and commit less crime.  In short, they are not more rebellious, often having human aspirations other members can recognise. 

That is not to say they are the same. They are more diverse with more gender equality.  UCAS figures show 98,000 more women than men applied to enter higher education in 2018.  The Girl Guides manifesto ‘Future Girl’ draws on a major survey of 76,000 women and girls – showing how climate change and sexual harassment were flagged as their biggest concerns as well as bullying, gender stereotypes and pressure about their looks.  Have you got the gender balance right in your offer for your organisation?

In summary, the target market for members is the same as the old one but different.  Gen Z often wants some of the same things: they want to grow and develop much as any generation before, but their new normal is a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complexity, ambiguous) world where their lives are more volatile, more uncertain, ever changing, shorter, sharper, faster, less collectivist. The package to attract this generation to be members of any group must reflect this:

  • Membership package – an affordable entry level, enhanced, well communicated, relevant, and pitched to meet their needs;
  • Relevant communications – opportunities to network and make contacts using formats they use: think topical - what is hotter than steam today is cold tomorrow, think concise: 210 characters in Twitter, think sharp: 24 hours in Instagram, understand how everything is instant access, mobile, online and neatly packaged;
  • Personalise – no need to patronise, they’ll see it like ‘dad dancing’. Match their expectations, they see a very different world ahead as members. They will be questioning why should they join a club when their world will be very individual with many and multiple jobs, a variety of work and a greater unpredictability, the prospect of working for longer and doing jobs that don’t exist today;
  • Consider the world they are interested in – living means renting, entertainment means online, time shifted, box sets, binge viewing on Netflix, listening on Spotify, travel means Ryanair, Airbnb, back-packing;
  • Focus on learning and development, offer no cost membership services including hot links to senior members to act as their coaches and mentors.

Catch them early – persuade them they are stronger together in your network than any other, offer them value they need for their generation, help them to make sense of a complex professional environment and encourage them to be part of your own lively and vibrant growth and development as an organisation.  Do this or risk the very future of your organisation.

 

Dr Mark Pegg,
Director, Chalfont Associates

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