The Millennial influence on the future of associations is not just a concern of the SBC, but to secular associations as well. Sladek (2011) calls the convergence of three trends—demographic shifts, technological advancements, and the changing economy—the “three-headed monster” which threatens the future of associations and specifically points to the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation as “the end of the membership association as we know it.” A review of the literature indicates the predominant fear concerning the Millennial impact on the future of the association relates to the notion that Millennials are anti-institution, and therefore would not be interested in association membership. A more precise description of the prevailing Millennial approach to institutions is one of caution: Millennials are not joining institutions just for the sake of being able to call themselves members of something.
Brooks, the principle researcher behind a 2006 study conducted by the William E. Smith Institute for Association Research concluded that generations had very little influence on the future of associations. Brooks’ study focused on those born from 1965-1975, years that approximately correspond to the middle segment of Generation X (Millennials: A portrait of Generation Next, 2010; Strauss & Howe, 1997; Tapscott, 2009). Brooks went on to forecast 55 million association members in 2015, an increase of 4 million from the total in 2005 (William E. Smith Institute for Association Research, 2006). Millennials, the largest generation of the five living generations (Tapscott, 2009), appear to only increase that estimate.
However, there were caveats to his prediction. Brooks (William E. Smith Institute for Association Research, 2006) noted that younger members want associations to be accountable in providing an identifiable and specific “’return’ on their charitable ‘investment’” (p. 44). Brooks offered declining membership between generations in organizations like the Sierra Club and National Rifle Association as proof that younger members want more from their association than just to be called a member (Junker, 2007). While associations must balance the scale and services they provide to members, younger members are likely pursuing association membership to gain services, career advantages, community, and opportunities to serve (American Society of Association Executives and The Center for Association Leadership, 2007).
The type of association also matters to Brooks’ prediction. When the Silent generation was the primary generation in the workforce, there was a correlation between membership in neighborhood civic associations and professional associations. Over the years, participation in neighborhood associations declined, and industry observers anticipated professional organizations to meet a similar fate. However, Brooks points out that by changing jobs and moving more frequently than past generations, Generation X still has a need for community and networking that can be filled by an association based in a profession rather than a geographic location (William E. Smith Institute for Association Research, 2006).
The trends alluded to by Brooks also align with research regarding the Millennial generation. As a generation, Millennials are extremely confident in their ability to make a difference in the world (Elmore, 2010). Millennials have the highest generational rate of volunteerism (Tapscott, 2009), and 75% say they want to serve others (Rainer & Rainer, 2011, p. 166). Millennials are cause-driven, loyal to people over institutions, ambitious, dependent on technology, highly educated, focused on leveraging technology to enable their pursuits, and open to change (Millennials: A portait of Generation Next, 2010; Rainer & Rainer, 2011; Tapscott, 2009).
With confidence comes expectation. Millennials expect to make substantial contributions in everything they do, and they expect the meetings they attend to cater to their needs (Fenich, Scott-Halsell, & Ogbeide, 2012). The Millennial generation has grown up in the age of the blog comment, the online rating, and Internet-based instant publishing. If Millennials like a product, they will promote it through social media. Conversely, they will use the same social media to spread negative publicity when the feel it is warranted. Institutions are slow to incorporate the sense of immediacy that Millennials expect, and conversely, Millennials are prone to impatience. Millennials are accustomed to leading through informal ways such as influence, and they desire that same leadership in their work activities. Rainer and Rainer (2011) state that 85% of Millennials felt they had unused potential at their jobs. In associations, where participation is voluntary, similar feelings will result in Millennials withdrawing their participation or ending their membership.