How to attract the next generation of membership

Millennials expect to create a better future, using the collaborative power of digital technology. Mal Fletcher, futurist. Many associations are seeking out younger generations to cement their future membership, and yet, like many organizations, they cannot figure out how to connect with them. Millennials and Gen Z are unlike any generation that came before. They […]

How to attract the next generation of membership

Millennials expect to create a better future, using the collaborative power of digital technology.

Mal Fletcher, futurist.

Many associations are seeking out younger generations to cement their future membership, and yet, like many organizations, they cannot figure out how to connect with them. Millennials and Gen Z are unlike any generation that came before. They have different behaviors, beliefs, and aspirations — and are digitally savvy.

Increasing influence and power

Yet, it’s vital that associations attract younger demographics as Millennials have become a key economic driving force, with the purchasing power to match. As they age and climb the career ladder, this spending power and influence is only set to increase. Simultaneously, Gen Z is entering the career stage where they are beginning to shape culture and trends. And in a little over a decade, they will be taking over the economy — by 2025, they will earn $17 trillion across the cohort, and this will reach $33 trillion by 2030. Over a quarter (27%) of the world’s income.

Time to get online

In other words, crack the code for engaging Millennials and Gen Z today and over the next few years you’ll see your membership, influence, and income drastically grow. The first priority? Get a digital presence. Millennials and Gen Z are digital natives, who feel more confident interacting online compared to in person. That’s where an online expert community can really help your organization stand out among this demographic as they want to connect with others, and fostering a community feeling in your membership organization can help to fulfill this goal.

In just a few years’ time, as more Gen Z enter the workforce and Millennials continue up the career ladder, online expert communities will become the de facto way for associations to deliver their main value propositions of content, learning, and networking.

Indeed, associations can tap into a core need of both junior generations —  connection. Because although they are the most digitally connected generations, they are also ranked among the loneliest. Social media connections do not equal meaningful, life-giving interactions.

The role of brand communities

Most Millennials and Gen Z are already open to interacting with brand communities, with 62% of them believing that brands have the power to create communities based on common interests and passions. Developing your own, branded online community can attract junior demographics away from the noise and distraction of social media, to become valuable contributors to your association. They are seeking out new ways to reach others with depth and insight — and membership organizations providing their own expert communities are the ideal solution.

As Steven Inchcoombe, Chief Publishing Officer and Board Member at Springer Nature explains about its communities, “We’re not trying to create broad social networks – there are plenty of those – this is about bringing focused communities together without all the noise.”

Moreover, both generations want to be part of communities that make them feel understood and like they belonged.

By now, you should have a good idea of what your online expert community needs to do to attract younger generations:

  1. Create a branded, trusted space that’s distinct from social media, that generates deeper and more meaningful connections
  2. Tap into their intrinsic desire for deep connection
  3. Focus on a specific niche or purpose that attracts like-minded individuals

Let’s explore each in more detail.

Trusted spaces

Millennials and Gen Z primarily trust three groups: their family, friends, and experts. Leverage any of these three in a space that is exclusive and vetted, and you will have a trusted community that junior demographics will turn to for advice and recommendations. This can take the form of a members portal, that provides that exclusivity and vetting, or on top of, and linked to, a portal.

To push this further, give them the opportunity to share their own insights, content, and advice with the community. They aren’t happy to be mere consumers who are communicated to by a brand (like traditional advertising). Instead, they want to be a part of a two-way conversation. Participation is the new expectation and this is what’ll make them feel like they matter to your brand and are part of the community.


Remember what I said about being the loneliest generation? Well, connection really matters to both generations and they are prone to feeling socially isolated. Part of their overall feeling of wellbeing hinges on social connection and community has been identified as a core part of this.

You can play a major role in fulfilling this need by creating opportunities for members to connect with their peers and experts. A simple discussion thread underneath a piece of content can spark a new connection. A space for watercooler chat might create a lasting friendship. Dedicated community areas to chat pre and post-event can continue networking long after a live event ends. The key is offering a range of ways for your community to gather online and interact so that every individual has the opportunity to find their peers.

Hosting events

Online expert communities are the perfect complement to events — online, hybrid, and in-person. Instead of relying on face-to-face events that are one-off throughout the year, continuing discussions on post-event can create 365/7 engagement that continues to build relationships. It may also suit the more digitally-savvy junior generation. Furthermore, sharing content and speaker insights before an event can build hype and (dare I say it) FOMO around the event which’ll increase attendance. Fear of missing out (FOMO) is something that particularly drives Gen Z.

It’s something that Lisa Pantelli, Head of Content and Community at simplycommunicate experienced when the company launched simplynetwork, the leading community for internal comms professionals, to run alongside its flagship event SimplyIC. As she explains, “I’ve never been to an event where there’s been that much buzz and excitement behind it.”

Through Zapnito, simplycommunicate had over 560 attendees to its virtual SimplyIC event during the pandemic. Many of these were new attendees, from America, Europe, and New Zealand, as the event was more accessible to those overseas.

Niche and purpose

Having a niche or purpose driving your community will be key for some membership organizations. Gen Z and Millennials are highly purpose-driven so having this defined from the start will help them determine if they want to be a part of your community. Purpose-driven communities provide emotional satisfaction and empowerment, as they provide a space for members to mobilize around their values, goals, and concerns by sharing content and starting conversations.

WildHub, for example, has created a community for conservationists to gather around global conservation efforts. It has over 1,000 members across 80 countries who joined the community to remain on top of new demands, best practices and collaborate with each other.

Picking the right technology

Choosing a nonprofit member platform with the right features will make it easier to meet the expectations of junior demographics. At a minimum the community needs to be able to provide:

  • Diverse content publishing – Both Millennials and Gen Z are big on posting and consuming visual content, especially video, so having this option alongside more traditional word-based content will help you attract and engage them.
  • Private, topic-driven discussion spaces – This facilitates the need to connect with peers around a niche or purpose, in a trusted space that’s exclusive to pre-vetted members.
  • Events (panels, scheduling, and content) – the right community platform will support physical, online, and hybrid events. You should be able to host video panels with expert speakers, either as a standalone online event or as part of a hybrid one. Hosting content for the event will help to build hype beforehand and continue engagement after the event passes.
  • Facilitating pre-, post-, and concurrent discussions around events – As both generations feel more comfortable communicating online, having an area for discussions before or after an event can help junior generations to network in a way that suits them best.
  • Data ownership – Both generations have an interesting relationship with their personal data. On one hand, almost half (47%) of Gen Z don’t trust social media and that has resulted in carefully curated social media profiles that don’t give too much behavioral or personal data away. Likewise, 66% of Millennials are concerned about their data privacy. However, both are willing to give away their personal data if it gives them personalized experiences. There is a fine line to tread here, so choose a platform that gives you ownership of community data so you can control how that data is used and ensure it’s only used for the good of your members. Communicate this fact to your members too, for their peace of mind.

Ready to attract a younger demographic? Speak to our expert team today and discover how Zapnito can support you.