Associations are always “mission first” in word and often indeed, but many have led less and less with mission in their efforts to revitalize their membership. Better member experience and enhancing the member value equation have been the guiding lights for association growth and rightly so. In membership messaging, mission is often relegated to a tagline in the belief that “what’s in it for me” is the only key to marketing success. Guided by marketing research and experts, many organizations have sought to imitate for-profit marketers by promoting “features and benefits” and enticing offers, which often disappoint expectations.
On the other hand, some of the best performing associations are doubling down on their missions for increased relevance and new growth, having learned that personal alignment with the mission creates strong feelings of belonging, influence, and identity that drive membership in ways that no transaction can. Indeed, 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 and actionable insights for how associations can take advantage of it.
Millennial Mindset. Millennials are a skeptical bunch, with a very high bar for trusting a brand. They demand authenticity, transparency, consistency, shared values and 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 held views or supported issues that conflicted with their beliefs.
Self-Directed Consumers. It’s never been faster or easier to research products and brands before buying. Comparison shopping extends beyond price and reviews to corporate practices on a host of social issues. Apps like Good on You, which rates fashion brands’ impact on people, animals, and the environment and Good Guide, which scores over 200,000 products on health, environment, and social justice, put the power to buy based on beliefs 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.
Enabling technology. Social and mobile technology make it possible to research purchases in the moment and choose causes with great specificity. Technology also allows consumers to shift allegiances immediately, underscoring the importance of providing a consistently positive brand experience. The growing adoption of voice assistants is forcing businesses and non-profits alike to figure out yet another channel through which to connect. With moves like Google’s announcement that it will award $25M this year to people with proposals to use AI to tackle some of the world’s greatest social, humanitarian, and environmental challenges, we can only expect the rate of change to increase.
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 that put a human face on the all the ways you serve them and that lets members see themselves in your picture.
To learn more about this topic and other issues impacting membership organizations, we invite you to 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/.