Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Connecting With the Next Generation... Not as Hard as You Think!

So I was thinking on my plane ride today as I was looking at our Annual Meeting attendance, our new board members to be installed at the meeting and some recent pictures of me with members, and I noticed how the young blood is beginning to take shape within our association.

It frankly was quite exciting because I have heard many around the country say:
  • “Those young people are not joiners.”
  • “They don’t see our association as relevant.”
  • “They don’t feel like they need us.”
  • “They only want to connect through social media.”

 As passionately as I think "the association model is the strongest business model for banning people together to take action to make lasting change", I also think "associations offer young people a special connection and bond they can’t get anywhere else."

Young people have a desire to meet face to face.  They do join things that are relevant to their lives, and they don’t just connect through social media.

The problem with most associations is they are not embracing the youthful ways, which causes the “disconnect.”  They instead are trying to force their age old ideas on young people, who think those ideas aren’t good anymore.  They are seeking more!

Our association goes out of its way to make the young people feel important and give them a platform to be a part of the process.  We make them feel like their ideas count.  We tell them they ARE THE FUTURE!  We have created a premier industry management training program that energizes them and lets them know they have achieved something.  We educate them that this program is their stepping stone to serving at the highest levels of leadership in our industry.

If you want to attract the young people in your industry, take a lesson out of the military advertising, where young people join by the thousands everyday.  Young people believe they will see their world in ways they never thought possible, have an amazing experience along the journey, and be better off in the end, all while fighting for an amazing cause.

We have followed that model, and it has worked with amazement.   We even end every one of our online webcasts with, “You're not just strong.  You're MTI Strong!”  

I encourage every association to take a look at your next generation outreach efforts, and see what will it take to let young people know they can trust you, that you care about them, and you do things in a way that will be exciting to them.  They want an experience for sure.  

Associations need to "connect" with where younger people are, to draw them in, and sometimes that means taking somewhat crazy steps.  Let me leave you with one example.   Earlier this year, I found out one of our participants (a 24 year old), in our Young Executive Management Program, was the 2008 National Beer Pong Competition Champion in Las Vegas.  After finishing our networking dinner at the first meeting, and looking for what to do next, to keep the networking and bonding among the managers lively, he said he happened to have his beer pong table in his truck.  I told him to go get it, asked the banquet manager if we could keep the room open until midnight, and told the other 20 participants to meet us in the banquet room for some team building.

What transpired was amazing.  I sat in awe, watching 20 managers from different parts of the country, relax and bond as they connected with one another, forming teams of two, and playing beer pong for 3 hours.  They talked business, shared war stories, and laughed a ton.  My favorite comment came from a conservative guy named Dave, from the midwest.  He turned to me at one point and said, "Tom, this is so far out of my comfort zone, but I'm having the time of my life."

You see, we allowed a group of young managers to connect at their level, inside a game they enjoyed, in a safe and controlled environment.  We made it a team building event, used it to our advantage to connect and built loyalty among our next generation.   Throughout the night they learned strategy, focus, accuracy, patience, teamwork, and moderation.  Most associations would have stuck them in a room with an open bar and let them drink uncontrollably, or let them go out on the town, where who knows what would happen, and been okay with that.  Not us....we wanted to create more for them.  

We wanted that connection between them and our association...and we got it.

I suggest all associations figure out where your connection point is with your next generation, and go for it, even if it looks unconventional for associations....