Associations are always “mission first” in word and often indeed. Yet many have led less and less with a mission in their efforts to revitalize their membership. Enhancing member value and experience have been the guiding lights for association growth. Rightly so. In membership messaging, the mission is often reduced to the belief that “what’s in it for me” is the only key to nonprofit marketing success. Guided by research, many organizations have sought to imitate for-profit marketers. They promote “features and benefits” and enticing offers. This often disappoints expectations.
Some of the best performing associations are doubling down on their missions. They know personal alignment with the mission creates feelings of belonging and influence. This drives membership in ways that no transaction can. It creates increased relevance and growth. The mission is the one competitive advantage for which there is no for-profit alternative.
This is a shift in thinking, to be sure. Our research has found three interconnected causes for this trend. From this, we developed actionable insights on how associations can take advantage of it.
Adopt the Millennial Mindset
Millennials are a skeptical bunch, with a very high bar for trusting a brand. They demand authenticity, consistency, and shared values. They want opportunities to participate. Brands that can meet these requirements are rewarded with emotionally invested, long-term customers. Aspects of this mindset cross generations. A recent survey found that:
- 78% of people want companies to address social justice issues
- 87% of consumers would be willing to buy a product or service based on a company’s advocacy on a social issue
- 76% said they would decline to do business with a company if it supported issues that conflicted with their beliefs.
By recognizing the millennial mindset and adopting it in your marketing strategy, your association can draw in new, highly loyal members.
Appeal to Self-Directed Consumers
It’s never been faster or easier to research products and brands before buying. Comparison shopping extends beyond price and reviews. It now includes corporate practices on a host of social issues. There are even apps developed to help consumers do exactly that. Good on You rates fashion brands’ impact on people, animals, and the environment. Good Guide scores over 200,000 products on health, environment, and social justice. The power to buy based on beliefs is at consumers’ fingertips.
Self-direction also extends to charitable giving. In response to the 2016 flooding in Louisiana, GoFundMe users raised more than $11M through more than 6,000 flood-related campaigns. The Salvation Army only raised $4M, in contrast. These micro-campaigns were about individuals and families with compelling, relatable stories. They dovetail perfectly with the Millennial mindset.
Market your mission, then act on it. Doing so will prove to the self-directed consumers of today that your association is serious about their beliefs.
Technology makes it possible to research purchases and choose causes with great specificity. It also allows consumers to shift allegiances immediately. Providing a consistently positive brand experience has never been more important. The growing adoption of voice assistants is forcing businesses and nonprofits alike to figure out yet another way to connect. Google’s awarded $25M to a proposal to use AI to tackle some of the world’s greatest social, humanitarian, and environmental challenges. With moves like this, we can only expect the rate of change to increase.
Connecting with members through the channels they use most will allow your association to more effectively highlight your mission and encourage members to be an active part of it.
Your mission — to advance a field, protect your people, and make the world better – is your most powerful platform to connect with members. It should be an emotional rallying point that inspires action and invites belonging. The best way to do that is to attune to the Millennial mindset. By highlighting real people and their stories, you put a human face on the ways you serve them. That lets members see themselves in your picture.
To learn more about this and other issues impacting membership organizations, download our white paper, Tacking into the Headwinds of Association Growth.
 Komornicki, Sophie. “2017 Cone Communications CSR Study.” Cone Communications. NYC, 17 May 2017, www.conecomm.com/research-blog/2017-csr-study.
 Curtin, Melanie. “45 Percent of Millennials Expect This From Brands (It Can Also Help Grow Your Business).” Inc.com, 28 July 2018, www.inc.com/melanie-curtin/45-percent-of-millennials-expect-this-from-brands-it-can-also-help-grow-your-business.html.
 Lessler, Faye. “5 Apps and Online Tools for Conscious Shopping.” Eco Warrior Princess, 14 Mar. 2016, ecowarriorprincess.net/2016/03/5-apps-online-tools-for-conscious-shopping/
 Gershgorn, Dave. “Google Is Giving $25 Million to People Who Want to Use AI for Good.” QZ.com, 29 Oct. 2018, qz.com/1442493/google-is-giving-25-million-to-people-using-ai-for-good/.