October 28, 2019

Meeting the Unique Membership Needs of College Students and Graduates

Meeting the Unique Membership Needs of College Students and Graduates

As Boomers retire, Gen X isn’t large enough to replace the Boomer presence in leadership and volunteering roles—and their dues and program revenue. But if your association can attract Millennials and Gen Zers, you won’t have to worry as much about your revenue and volunteer pipeline.

College students and recent graduates are a member and customer segment with unique challenges, needs, and interests. Their biggest barrier to association membership and participation is financial:

  • Unprecedented student loan debt
  • Low unemployment and weakened job prospects
  • Low entry-level salaries
  • Lack of employer support for membership and professional development

Whatever you offer students and graduates must be affordable, return plenty of value for the money, and help them achieve their goals.

Students need help with:

  • Learning about your profession/industry
  • Finding internships
  • Acquiring the skills required to get a temporary or permanent job in your industry
  • Landing entry-level jobs

Recent graduates need assistance with:

  • Distinguishing themselves professionally from their peers
  • Finding a job with potential—somewhere they can grow with an employer that supports their development
  • Connecting with peers and mentors

Find the Right Membership Model for Students and Graduates

70% of individual membership organizations and 55% of associations with combination memberships (individual and company) offer a student membership, according to the 2019 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report from Marketing General Incorporated. However, only 26% of these student memberships convert to full memberships.

What happens? Most likely, money stands in the way—or a problem with membership value. To address the financial challenge, more associations are starting to offer transitional memberships—19% of individual membership organizations and 12% of combo membership organizations do this now.

In a transitional membership model, dues are extremely low for the first year out of school and increase gradually over five years or so. To provide additional value, you could offer complimentary programs to transitional members, for example, online learning or conference registration.

Don’t expect students or recent graduates to feel their way through the membership experience. A new member onboarding program helps them discover the benefits of membership, including the resources they need to achieve their career goals. Introduce them to membership ambassadors who are 5 to 15 years older. These “big brothers and sisters” can act as mentors who guide them to the right resources.

Encourage young members to join and participate in their local chapter where they can meet potential employers and start building a local professional network.

Student chapters also help build the association habit. In student chapters, members can learn about career paths, network with employer members and other students, and take advantage of leadership opportunities.

However, successful student chapters need faculty or alumni advisors, chapter staff at the national association, and technology (like an AMS) that reduces the administrative burden on chapter leaders. Your AMS’ member portal allows students to join and pay dues online, renew their membership, register for events, and access association resources all from one place.

Your AMS can help you keep track of student member activity, but this transient group is easy to lose since they change mailing addresses frequently and, upon graduation, stop using a university email address. Remember to collect more than one email address in addition to a cell phone number as a backup.

Provide a Comprehensive Career Center

If you can’t get students and recent graduates to join your association, you can cultivate a relationship by providing the resources they need. When they’re in a better financial position, you’ll be the first place they turn.

Encourage employers to post internships, externships, apprenticeships, and entry-level jobs in your career center. You may even want to offer reduced pricing for these postings.

Young adults have a lot to learn and don’t always know what they need to learn, but you do. Offer a mix of videos, articles, tip sheets, webinars, and online learning programs that cover:

  • Work/life issues, such as student loan management, personal finances, stress management, and work/life integration
  • Career issues, such as career paths, working with a recruiter, resume and cover letter tips, employer/recruiter expectations, job search etiquette, interviewing tips, and advice on managing their personal brand and/or online reputation

If your members run their own practice or business, offer basic small business and practice management education.

Share the stories of members with 5 to 10 years work experience. Their experiences are relatable since they’re not so removed from a recent graduate’s experience. Record interviews on “what I wish I knew then,” skills to develop, experiences to pursue, tips for networking, and advice for association involvement.

Young professionals are seeking ways to distinguish themselves from the competition. Provide an entry-level credential program in which they can acquire and demonstrate mastery of basic industry skills and knowledge.

Keep Students and Graduates in Mind When Designing Events

Find ways to eliminate or reduce the financial barriers to participation, such as:

  • Waived or discounted registration fees
  • Bundled registration (register 3 people, the 4th goes free)
  • Scholarships or sponsored registrations
  • Free registrations for local students
  • Volunteering in exchange for registration

Offer special activities for students and recent graduates, such as:

  • Pre-event meetup for students and/or young professionals where they can meet slightly older members or membership ambassadors
  • Special conference track
  • Lunch tables with mentor-types
  • Speed mentoring sessions
  • Special hours on the exhibit floor so they have an opportunity to meet exhibitors (potential employers) without booth pressure from buyers

Offer Plenty of Networking Opportunities

Students and recent graduates seek opportunities to network with their peers and with older members. They’re seeking advice from older mentors but also from those closer in age but five or ten years further along in their career. Each of these groups brings valuable experience and perspective.

Provide regular events (socials and educational roundtables) where students, recent graduates, and young professionals can develop relationships with each other without having to be “on” for potential employers. Set up licensing or certification exam study groups. Think about mastermind groups for young professionals who have solo practices, live in rural areas, or have other special needs and interests. Set up virtual groups of non-competing members from different areas.

Volunteering provides valuable opportunities for young professionals to develop skills, stretch comfort zones, and meet others. Cover both ends of the time-commitment spectrum with student and young professional leadership councils as well as microvolunteering. Post these openings on your website and member portal, and feature them in newsletters.

Continue Learning About Students and Graduates

Treat students and recent graduates as a unique marketing segment, whether they’re members or nonmembers. Relevance is key with this group. They’ll stop tuning in if your association’s messaging and programming show signs of not “getting” them.

Stay in touch with their needs and preferences by establishing student and young professional advisory groups where you can learn from them and about them. Involve young professionals in committee and board work so older members don’t operate in a bubble.

Only promote the benefits, events, products, and services that interest them, solve their problems, and help them move forward in their career and life.

Learn how the MemberSuite career center module can help your association meet the needs of students, recent graduates, and young professional members.