Millennials Are Aliens From Outer Space and Other Misconceptions About Generation Y


In 2015, millennials surpassed Generation X to become the largest population in the workforce. While the majority of the workforce is getting younger, most membership organizations are seeing the average age of their membership go up.

In response to this troubling trend, associations are prioritizing the attraction of young members. After all, young members are their future—future volunteers, future dues payers and future leaders. But attracting young professionals hasn’t been easy.

Perception lies at the root of this challenge. Millennials are viewed as utterly unlike the generations that have come before them. Technologically savvy, millennials are perched on the cutting edge of change. Baby boomers, on the other hand, are thought to be technologically unsophisticated and nearly allergic to change.

These generalizations suggest an insurmountable abyss exists between boomers and millennials. Associations react accordingly, believing that what they have done in the past to attract members must be reinvented to grab the attention of this alien millennial breed.

However, recent research from AARP shows that young professionals have a lot more in common with boomers than conventional wisdom implies, and that the distance between the two generations is actually converging. Therefore, associations will benefit by taking note of the similarities between millennials and boomers, not just their differences.


Boomers are the original “me” generation, and that thinking has filtered down to the millennials. Often raised by baby boomer parents or grandparents, millennials have grown up expecting that everything is—and should be—about them. Not only do boomers and millennials want what they want, they want to be able to do it themselves.

Why does it matter?: Both boomers and millennials want a “customized” experience and will choose the association that can give it to them. That means more options and on-demand services that give them what they want, when and how they want it.

Overwhelmed by Choices

Despite idealizing choices, the abundance of options makes the decision-making process a burden for boomers and millennials alike. It is a burden that’s further complicated by their rejection of guidance from intermediaries.

Why does it matter?: Associations don’t need to create different or more valuable content to appeal to option-fatigued millennials and boomers; they need to present and distribute their existing content in new ways. Associations that expand their content distribution to millennial- and boomer-preferred channels have the best chance of cutting through the noise and capturing their attention.

General Mistrust of Institutions

Millennials and boomers are skeptical of institutions. True to their “me” instincts, they constantly question what’s in it for them. Both generations want institutions to prove their value.

Why does it matter?: Trust is key to loyalty, and boomers and millennials are highly loyal to institutions they trust—but that trust has to be earned. Associations can overcome their mistrustful nature by promoting clearly defined and proven membership benefits as well as working to build confidence over time.

Value Experiences over Things

For millennials and boomers, things are just…things. It’s experiences they are after. According to a study conducted by Eventbrite, 94% of millennials and 91% of boomers believe that experiences lead to a fulfilling life.

Why does it matter?: Associations that provide opportunities to connect and engage—both digitally and face-to-face—have a better chance of drawing in millennials and boomers.  

Social Sharing as Status

Experiences are the new status symbols and social media is the trophy case. Millennials’ affinity for sharing on social media is well known, but boomers are catching on. People aged 50+ are the fastest growing segment on social media.

Why does it matter?: When associations provide meaningful and memorable experiences to their millennial and boomer members, those members share it on social. Social shares spread an association’s message and proof of value.

Pervasive Use of Technology

Technology is not just a millennial thing. While millennials are technology natives, boomers have adopted technology readily consuming it at a rate rivaling the millennial generation. If you’re not reaching out to boomers and millennials digitally, then you aren’t reaching them.

Why does it matter?: Associations that strategically use technology to communicate and educate their membership will see higher rates of engagement among the millennial and boomer populations.

In recognizing the similarities between millennials and boomers, it becomes apparent that this crop of young professionals isn’t a special case. In fact, millennials are echoing many of the needs of older generations—just in a more demanding tone. While the older generations have been more tolerant in waiting for change, their patience is wearing thin.

Therefore, the challenge facing associations is more than determining how they can attract young professionals. The challenge is how associations must change to meet current and future member needs. Fortunately, young professionals can tell us a lot about that.

When the needs of millennials are met, so are the current and future needs of associations. Associations can attract young professionals and improve the experience of their older members by bringing the generations together.

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