Are Professional Associations and Networking Events Doomed? This Millennial Says No

Are Professional Associations and Networking Events Doomed? This Millennial Says NoDo professional associations and networking events sound as old school as a VCR? Believe it or not, some are thriving – and there’s a reason. It’s not that millennials aren’t joiners – one survey found that 58 percent of professionals under 40 are part of a professional organization or community, and 77 percent of those who hadn’t yet joined intended to. And it will come as no surprise that 67 percent said they would “prefer to join an organization founded by peers of a similar age.”

But many professional associations were not founded by millennials and leaders tell me they are struggling to attract millennials to their events and membership rolls. Where is the disconnect?

To find out, I followed my own advice and asked a millennial.

Faris Virani is the president of Connecticut Young Professionals (CTYP), which in just two years has been able to build a membership of more than 1,400 and a board of 20+, almost all of whom are millennials. Faris co-founded the organization after arriving in the New York metro area from his home state of Texas. He found that it was difficult to meet new people and plug in, so he researched the types of programs that would attract young people and used that information to help create CTYP.

Here is what Faris told me about the secrets behind his organization’s success.

What are traditional organizations doing wrong when it comes to attracting millennials?

Millennials are a drastically different generation than any before them in many ways, and many organizations and associations are just not built to support the needs of young people. A major issue we see is that they have meetings or events during the day. That’s not going to work: Millennials are just diving into their careers and aren’t going to leave the office for three hours in the middle of the day. Millennials are looking to blend their work — including volunteer and board roles — with their social lives. They are looking not only to be involved with whatever issue your organization is addressing, but also to plug into a community.

Another issue we see is prohibitive costs; millennials are a very cost-conscious generation. And finally, too many associations ask for too much commitment. Millennials might hesitate to commit to a board for two year-terms, for example, because they are very mobile. They’re changing jobs every two years.

Tell me about some of your most successful events.

At a recent event, Connecticut Young Professionals (CTYP) partnered with the Future Leaders of Yale (FLY) to host Connecticut’s first statewide Young Professionals Symposium. At the event, we had local, state and federal level politicians speak about what they’re working on that would impact young professionals — including a keynote from Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal. That helped create a dialogue between young people and their elected officials, which we believe will ultimately help make Connecticut a better place for young professionals.

At another event, we partnered with the Greater New Haven Community Foundation at the New Haven Museum and invited representatives from 20 nonprofits. After a networking component, each representative gave a one-minute elevator speech about what their nonprofit was doing and how young people could get involved. Our hope is that young people will become engaged in their communities through boards, commissions and volunteer opportunities.

What programming or communication strategies have you seen that are best to avoid?

If it involves a lot of commitment, that’s a problem. When we hold a lecture or a talk, we try to keep general announcements and most presentations short, so as not to detract from the presentation that attendees came for, such as the keynote. Growing up in the digital age, millennials are used to getting information very efficiently, delivered quickly and with brevity. Our speakers realize that their job is almost to plant seeds, not necessarily convey all the information during your speech. Young professionals can and will conduct searches for additional information if they are interested.

How do you attract busy millennials to commit to being on a board?

We promote camaraderie and showcase our board as a way to build new ties both professionally and personally. We really encourage board members to become close-knit since millennials are looking to blend their work with their social lives. Many of our board members at CTYP not only want to contribute to something they believe in, but are looking for a sense of belonging within the board. Our board at CTYP feels like a second family to many of us.

What are the benefits to millennials of being active in associations?

Millennials are looking for meaningful work and a sense of purpose. As a mobile generation, they are also looking to plug into a community, and boards and associations have the potential to do that for them. By joining a board or association, a millennial can feel that sense of belonging.

Have you plugged into a professional organization? I’d love to hear! Share your experience in the comments.

Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

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