Do you remember sitting at the kiddie table? I do, and it's a memory that brings up mixed feelings. I loved the kiddie table when I was five, but by 14 I was tired of all the screaming children. I wanted to move on to the main table. I imagine you can think of a time when you wanted the same thing.
Often, however, if you bring up moving from kiddie table then the older generation won't understand why you don't want to be with "fun people your own age." This may happen when older generations fail to realize that a 14-year-old and a 4-year-old have very little in common. There's also a bit of an elitist element to the situation. The experienced adults don't want to spend the entire evening in conversation with someone so much younger.
This is often the same argument used to create and continue young professionals (YP) groups in associations.
The Problem with Young Professionals Groups
Young professionals groups are often started with the best of intentions to attract more young professionals and help them network with their peers. Unfortunately, if the program isn't run well, it can end up hindering younger members. This typically happens when the YP group creates a divide between young association members and veteran members.
- Are your young professionals interacting only with one another?
- Do veteran members view your YP members as inexperienced?
- Is there a lack of leadership opportunities for your YP members?
- Have you created separate resources and content for YP members vs. other association members?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then your YP group may be inadvertently separating young members from the rest of your association. That also means that your YP group may be acting in the same way that an outdating kiddie table does. It's causing both your veteran members and your younger members to miss out on valuable networking and learning experiences.
YP groups should help everyone, especially your young professionals, become more successful. When your group is more restrictive than helpful, dividing members into categories, then it's time to either axe or redo your YP group.
Successful Young Professionals Groups
If you don't want to get rid of your YP group entirely, you can optimize it. There are many examples where associations have started and kept up thriving young professionals groups that contribute to the skills and careers of new and veteran members. Associations with successful young professionals groups that grow members' careers are:
1) Not Segregating Their Members
Young professionals groups are based on age, which can be a good thing. It helps professionals meet and develop connections with peers of the same age. Just because you have an age-based group, however, doesn't mean that it has to be segregated from the rest of your membership.
Some associations and chambers encourage "YP" designation based on interest as well as age, for example. This saves them from having to toss people out once they turn 40 (nobody wants that job). If your YP group has less traditional events and networking opportunities, for instance, open then up to other members who are interested in breaking the mold.
Many YP groups also offer subject matter talks on topics that, while aimed at the younger generation, can be of interest to people across all age groups. Examples include technology and trends that are driven by millennials and younger generations, such as Snapchat or even the overall need to personalize the online experience. Your YPs could probably generate an excellent discussion around these subjects, and many veteran members would likely benefit from listening in.
2) Cultivating Opportunities to Interact
Successful YP groups don't host a YP meeting on Tuesday and a full membership on Wednesday with no opportunity for the two to come together. The YPs aren't a separate chapter of your association, they're valuable members who can learn from your veterans while also bringing a fresh perspective to the table.
To get your young professionals involved in the association as a whole, create activities that involve everyone. Committees work well for this purpose, as do volunteer opportunities and mentorship programs. Bring members together and give them an opportunity to work as a group in a guided way. Putting them in a room for a networking breakfast isn't enough since most people tend to stick with who they know. Create opportunities for interaction.
3) Creating Leadership Opportunities Now
Many associations see YP programs as a chance to nurture future leaders, but millennials don't want to lead two decades from now. They want to provide their opinions and thoughts as leaders now. And, with the professional and consumer landscape shifting toward millennials (they're one of the largest generations in history) your YPs also have the knowledge and ability to contribute.
Successful association YP groups recognize this. They are not creating career paths for their young professionals to achieve years from now, they are creating leadership opportunities for them today and reaching out to them to gage interest. As a result, the association gains valuable insight from a powerful up-and-coming demographic, and millennials feel more satisfied with their membership.
4) Not Buying into Stereotypes
The first step in engagement is understanding member preferences. That means talking with your members and using online activity data to find out what they're interested in, rather than just assuming you know based on stereotypes. Not all millennials love Twitter, and Snapchat isn't everyone's favorite new way to communicate. If you are creating an event or benefit for your millennial members, that's wonderful, but don't create it based on these or any other stereotypes.
Know your members, and don't take the word of what hundreds of other people are writing about that generation as the absolute truth. Your members may be very different from the norm. Use polls, surveys, and analytics to understand what your members, YPs included, want and expect from your association, not what you think they might want based on what you've read on the Huffington Post.
Association Young Professionals Group Takeaway
Meeting the needs of your members is a way to engage and retain them; segregating them based on age is not. It's time to ax your young professionals group if it has turned into a kiddie table that's separating YPs from the association as a whole.
You don't need to cultivate tomorrow's record-breaking pitcher by giving them time in a small town. You need them to lead in big league, real world scenarios. Your young professionals are smart and capable. They're ready and eager to be a part of your full association, not the junior version.
There are some wildly successful young professionals groups, and they are part of the association leadership and not relegated to the kiddie table. If you want to start a YP group or strengthen the one you have, look for ways to connect them with the association, not be an island unto themselves.