The Big Demographic Shift

Written by Jamie Notter on April 21, 2016

I remember years ago when people in the association world began to freak out a bit when they learned that Generation X were “not joiners.” True, Gen X does have a strong bent towards independence, and round about the time Bowling Alone was a popular book, many associations were seeing a decline in membership. Help! Gen X isn’t joining!

But here’s another view. Maybe they weren’t joining because they weren’t there.Remember that there was a demographic dip within Gen X when a lot fewer babies were being born. Fewer people equals fewer members, folks, and it has nothing to do with how much they like to join. When looking at generational trends, you have to take into account the demographic facts as well as the value differences.

Which leads me to an important question I have for associations: Are you aware that the Millennials are the largest generation in the history of the United States? And by a lot, too. By my numbers, there are 100 million of them, and only 65 million Baby Boomers. But to be honest, I think most associations have organizations built around the Boomer approach to networking, education, and advocacy (the “big three” of association strategy). Granted, association memberships I think tend to trend older (core association participation tends to happen later in one’s professional life), so maybe they still don’t see the Millennial presence, but it is coming, people, I can guarantee you that.

Are you going to wait until the Millennials have amassed enough numbers inside your membership before you change to accommodate their needs?

Literally, do you need the “right” number in your membership survey to tell you to change with the times? Because if you do, I think the Millennials will leave you behind. They will create their own opportunities to get things done, and you’ll miss out.

And much of that is NOT because the Millennials are super special or smarter than the rest of us. Things are going to change because there’s 100 million of them. Period. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to stay ahead of that wave or get knocked over by it. In the organizational assessment that we released to the public last week, we actually include an analysis of “Millennial alignment.” This is the kind of thing you’ll have to know about your association if you’re going to thrive in these turbulent times.

How is your association working to align itself with the Millennial era?

To provide some insight to this question, Jamie recently hosted an all-Millennial panel to discuss what this shift really means: