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Come and join the greatest show on Earth

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Kate Sargent, co-chair of ABPCO, says associations are failing to talk to the younger generations – and it could be their downfall

 

This issue’s focus on youth, and how associations can engage more effectively with young people, is one of the biggest challenges facing our industry.

Associations live or die based on their membership levels, and active engagement among their community. Younger members are energetic, enthusiastic individuals with a desire to develop their careers, and a huge depth of talent in all fields.

Why, then, is it such an issue to attract new members among younger communities?

The answer isn’t to be found in a social media strategy, a fashionable logo or a celebrity speaker at an event. Those are, frankly, just patronising attitudes that don’t appeal, because in most cases the potential younger members simply don’t know your association exists in the first place.

Some associations, particularly in the medical sector, are well known because individuals need to join to practice, complete exams or obtain insurance. Although in the majority of cases associations exist to add significant value, they are not a necessity - therefore their profile and knowledge of their existence is often far less than people appreciate.

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It doesn’t seem all that long ago that a younger version of myself was finding my way into the world of events.

I accidentally slipped into the world of associations, but up until that point I had no idea what they were, what value they added, or why I should join one. If you don’t believe me, ask your (non-work) friends next time you catch up, ask your family…chances are high that they won’t have a clue what an association is, or which one they could, and perhaps should, be a member of.

If you are lucky enough to be among those associations that are known by your target audience, take a close look at yourself and consider what messages you are portraying. Is your desire to be appealing to a diverse group of younger members hampered by a board that is ‘stale, pale and male’? Is your content appealing to those recently joining the industry, or incredibly dull and introspective? Do your events feel uncomfortable for newcomers, who are going to struggle with the networking?

It is all too easy to become insular and forget future generations. Association event management, while one of the most interesting, challenging and creative types of event management, is still an unknown to most people joining our industry. They leave education with heads full of ideas about experiential promo events, launches, festivals and weddings, with no idea of the conferencing world (unless they are lucky enough to go to one of a handful of forward-thinking universities).

Associations need more youthful members; association event management needs a younger workforce. There is nothing dull about what any of us do, and we have the power to change the world with our events.

We just have to get the message out.