ASSOCIATION MEMBERSHIP: Generational Differences in Your Audience

Do any of you connect life milestones with historical events as a way to keep track of your personal timeline? I think it was once Meredith, child #4, daughter #2, (2006?), was in college, that we finally realized that leaving cell phone messages were ineffective.  (And I thought giving them all cell phones would keep us connected!?) If we wanted timely answers to important questions like, “Will you be home for dinner?” or “What are the exact dates of your spring break?” the quickest way to an answer was to text.  Understanding your membership’s communication preferences is not always easy to identify!


The hot trend in Association circles seems to be focused on understanding generational differences and the impact that has on membership recruitment and retention strategies. In an earlier blog, How to Build Association Membership,  we wrote a summary of Sarah Sladek’s book, The End of Membership As We Know It.  In her book, Sladek makes the case for building a membership strategy that accounts for the demographic shifts that all associations, and even all businesses, face with the arrival of Gen Y in the workplace.

So it was with great anticipation that we attended PHCC’s Connect 2012 Conference in Philadelphia  to hear Jason Ryan Dorsey  speak to this very topic!  Jason is chief strategist for The Center for Generational Kinetics.  At the Center, they conduct research, train and consult with business leaders to “leverage generational trends for a competitive advantage.” The title of his keynote: “Crossing the Generational Divide: Unlocking the Power of Generations to Build Your Business.” The following are some of my notes from his talk.  The Cultural Impact and Marketing Impact observations are my own.


Jason’s main point for paying attention to generational differences:

This is the first time ever that four generations of adults are working together, side by side, in the workforce. 

The challenge of creating synergy across generations is critical to successful associations looking to tap the full potential of their membership while remaining competitive in their respective industries.


TRADITIONALISTS (pre 1946, age 67 yrs +)

  • They have a strong military/patriotic connection
  • Having grown up around the great depression, they are comfortable with delayed gratification

BABY BOOMERS (born 1946-1964, age 48-66)

  • They define and measure “work ethic” in numbers of hours worked per week
  • They believe there are no shortcuts to success; you must pay your dues

GENERATION X (born 1965-1976, age 36-47)

  • Naturally skeptical, they believe actions speak louder than words
  • Naturally loyal—to individuals, not corporations

GENERATION Y (born 1977-1995, age 17-35)

  • Often feels entitled—learned behavior from parenting
  • Tech dependent—how simple can you make it so that it just “happens?”
  • Ways to communicate: by text, email—subject line only please! and social media, ie: Facebook, Twitter
  • Most trust traditionalists
  • Natural conflict between Gen X (who created and understands technology) and Gen Y (who mostly use technology)


The last thing we want to do is create a prejudicial mindset about your staff and members. However, having some understanding of typical behaviors across generations can be useful in strategizing HOW to build bridges and create cohesion.  Celebrate the differences and use them as opportunities for better collaboration and out-of-the-box thinking.


Looking at the key characteristics of each generation above, it’s pretty obvious that there are significant differences.  However, this doesn’t change the message, it changes HOW YOU COMMUNICATE that message. One size will not fit all. This means that organizations need to keep reviewing their messaging and content strategies.   Varying channels of communication and targeting messages is still very important.

And when reviewing your message, remember this mantra“people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”   When you are clear about your organization’s WHY, you will naturally attract members who believe what you believe!

Comments 4

    1. Hi Brad, so glad you found us. Curious to know what keyword you were searching on MSN when you found us?

      If you ever have the chance to hear Jason Dorsey speak, take it. He’s hilariously funny as well as insightful! Lot’s of great info to share.

      BTW, went to your website and don’t see you listed. What is your role at http://www.generationalguru.com? ~k

    1. Hi, here’s the breakdown across the four generations currently working side by side in the workplace: TRADITIONALISTS (pre 1946, age 67 yrs +); BABY BOOMERS (born 1946-1964, age 48-66); GENERATION X (born 1965-1976, age 36-47) and GENERATION Y (born 1977-1995, age 17-35)
      We talked about major differences in these generational dynamics in a previous blog last year: https://sliceworks.coydhea2-liquidwebsites.com/sliceblog/2012/11/01/association-membership-generational-differences-in-your-audience/

      Let me know if you have any other question 😉 ~k

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *