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Membership News
The end of membership as we know it

By Faith Quinlan, State Membership Committee

  AUGUST 10, 2018 --

Over the past months I have been researching different methods to increase membership with the Grange.  The methods that have been used to recruit for many years are not producing very good results any longer. I researched to see what has changed in our communities that could explain this difference. My research included studying what is going on with other membership based organizations.  Some of those include organizations that have memberships associated with energy, education, banking, restaurants and marketing. They are organizations that accept dues and operate as a community. I am learning that their problems are very much the same as the ones the Grange Membership Committees across the USA are facing. It can seem rather bleak thinking about the future if we do not start making big changes in our approach to new members.

To get the best picture of why there is such a drop in new members it requires looking at how society has changed.  The top explanation for this is the huge difference in society and culture in the past 20 plus years.  This is not an article to pass judgment on those difference but to see what is true and learn how to still keep this great organization moving forward.  I would like to share some quotes from a book called, The End of Membership as We Know It by Sarah L. Sladek, a media professional who started researching demographic shifts in 2002.  She writes about what is happening and how to recognize areas where we may be able to make changes.  Sladek discusses the difference between the generation that is retiring out of organizations, the Baby Boomers, and the generation that in next largest in size and moving (or at least there is hope they will) to continue the work of their predecessors on the organization stage.  

For the Traditional Generation, the Great Depression brought a loss of confidence in America’s economic future which was followed by World War II.  Tough times gave way to a recovery and by 1946 the Baby Boomers were beginning to be born.  “Their parents would encourage them to attend college, work hard, raise families, and pursue the American Dream.  This generation would be raised to give generously of their time and money to community organizations and causes. The Baby Boomer generation would become passionate about joining, volunteering and serving membership associations.”

The first Baby Boomers came of retirement age in January 2011. “It’s long been predicted that this will be the year that launches our nation’s enterprises into a downward spiral composed of retirement waves and talent turnover.”  By 2030, 78 million Boomers will retire.  The workforce as we know it will end.  That combined with the rapid advances in technology and demographic shifts make the perfect storm to change what has worked for the past 50 years. 

Membership associations have existed since the 1600’s but the years between 1946-2000 were the biggest years for many organizations.  For years there was very little competition and these membership organizations offered a valuable commodity that members paid dues to have access.  Starting in 2000 a sequence of events unfolded that changed not only how membership organizations would continue but it changed how future generations would see and feel about America.

First, from1995-2000 there was a spike in new business with the growth of “dot-coms” and investors had confidence in technological advancement and the stock market prices of these companies grew quickly until the bubble burst in March 2000 and the NASDAQ lost nearly 9% and that led to hiring freezes, layoffs and many industries consolidated.  Second, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks rippled into substantial losses in meeting and event attendance and how to deliver content to membership needed to be considered.  Third, on October 6, 2008, the Great Recession began as the stock market spiraled down 18%.  This led to persistent unemployment, declines in home values, a federal debt crisis, inflation and rising gas prices.

Working a lifetime for one company is an extremely rare opportunity.  Millennials have a higher percent of entrepreneurs most likely because they do not trust they will have job security. Affordable health benefits and a fair salary are more than most can ask for because pensions, 401ks and paid vacation are luxuries that are like unicorns in the professional world.  These young people have watched their parents and grandparents get forced out of jobs they dedicated their lives to because companies are no longer loyal to their employees.

The details about growing up as a Millennial may not resonate with a lot of Baby Boomers.  I understand the huge generational shift in mindset can be frustrating on both sides.  This is exactly why I have been working so hard on what the membership committee may be able to do to bridge this chasm.  I do not want to see the Grange fade so much in popularity that it is unable to continue its great works.  I believe that if we can share even a portion of the magic we feel when helping our community and spending time with our Brothers and Sisters, we must find a way to reach across the divide and welcome the friends like us, who want to make this country strong.

Millennials are a generation who has not known life without technology.  They have had access to information and their education has increasingly incorporated computers into their lives.  Like our own generations, they are products of the world in which they grow.  “Like it or not, joining an association doesn’t necessarily top the generation’s list of things to do.”  They have come of age during the Great Recession and they are questioning the value of membership.  They look for a return on investment in every aspect of their life.  They have huge demands on their time in this very fast-paced world we live in and even more demands for their money.  

“Younger people seek and demand a return for membership, including tangible member services, high levels of accountability, identifiable career advantages, a sense of professional community, and opportunities to serve within organizations.”  The Grange can match every one of these points in its current structure.  What needs to change is how it is presented to younger potential new members and then how the new membership is cultivated to continue Grange work and carry on the history of the hard work that came before them.

Our youth/ junior programs declined during the years when we may have been more influential in our traditional path to membership.  We did not have a chance to show these younger people how and why we are proud members but I have no doubt that with smart marketing and understanding our target members we can come to embrace their love of individuality and social, economic and environmental concerns but show them how to work in a supportive organization.  Please contact me if you have thoughts or questions about this article, Membership_Faith@CTStateGrange.org.


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