The Atlantic recently published a “no-nonsense guide” by Derek Thompson: How to Write the Worst Possible Column about Millennials. It was a scathing response to a piece in the Boston Globe by Jennifer Graham titled, seriously, A Generation of Idle Trophy Kids. Can’t make that one up!

Skip the Graham article, but check out Thompson’s. In it, he points out two facts about the Millennial generation:

  • They’re the most educated generation in American history.
  • They’re the only age group for whom real wages fell during the recession.

What else do we know about Millennials?

  • In a tight market, they’re struggling to find jobs with decent pay and benefits. Many supplement their full-time jobs with part-time or freelance work.
  • They’re anxious to gain experience, improve skills and make contributions to their communities.
  • They’re graduating with huge levels of student loan debt.

student membersAssociations need Millennials and Millennials need associations – they just don’t know it yet. Before you can establish long-term relationships with Millennials, you have to let them know you exist and how you can help them during college and after.

Get on campus

Take a clue from LinkedIn. They launched their University Pages so they could become part of students’ lives while they were still in school. Invite college students and graduates to register for your online community or attend your events at a deep discount. Once you have their contact info, you can tell them more about association resources, education and programs that can help them.

The Ohio State Bar Association organizes on-campus panel discussions, meetings and social events for law students so they’re familiar with the association and its value. They work with local bar associations, school leadership, member “alumni-in-residence,” OSBA Leadership Academy graduates and student liaisons to tailor programs to each school’s needs. Law students get free membership to OSBA, a practice followed by most, if not all, bar associations.

The National Association of Home Builders works with teachers and professors at high schools, technical schools, community colleges and universities to establish local chapters for students enrolled in construction-related fields. Student members are eligible for scholarships, including travel scholarships to NAHB’s annual convention where students apply their classroom skills to real-life projects in a student competition.

Do the research

We all think we know what different generations need, but these assumptions are based on common stereotypes. Invest in market research to find out what the Millennials in your industry or profession need to know and want to experience. Start with focus groups and polls. Make it worth their while to participate. Ask your leadership to participate in cross-generational conversations about work, membership and the industry or profession so each generation can learn more about the other’s perspectives.

Identify the best ways to share resources with Millennials. Don’t assume; ask. Many associations have blogs and Facebook pages specifically for students.

Remember, peers listen to peers. The New Jersey Society of CPAs uses the testimonials of students and young professionals on its membership page.

Provide the help they need

The American Library Association identified the needs of library students and broke it down on their Student Support Portal like this:

  • Become involved
  • Explore career options
  • Pursue your education
  • Learn about financial assistance
  • Find jobs

That’s a good place to start, but you should base your offerings on market research.

Tweak these programs

The Indianapolis Bar Association speaks to students on How to Survive Your 1st Semester, provides scholarships for Bar Review sessions and hosts a Bar Application Clinic open house

The Society for Human Resource Management has more than 450 student chapters, even virtual chapters for online schools. Student chapters “learn about HR and the real world of business” through company tours, student conferences, resume-writing and interviewing workshops, internship programs and social events. 

Associations Now reported that “the National Retail Federation recently sponsored a virtual career fair for students and young professionals to explore the variety of job opportunities that lie in the retail industry.”

Mentoring programs help students and graduates learn about their new profession or industry and what it takes to advance. Leadership programs help graduates develop the skills and confidence they need to contribute to their professional community.

Money always helps. Free or deeply discounted association membership is a must. Consider student or early professional discounts on programs too. ALA provides a work-study type of scholarship to their annual conference: “In exchange for working four hours a day, students receive free conference registration, housing, and a per diem for meal expenses.”

If you develop relationships with students and become indispensable as they move through their careers, they are more likely to be your best members forever.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who worked in the towel room at the gym for her first work-study job. Her second job in the cafeteria was an improvement.