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Join the Club: Millennials and Modern Membership

When you ask your grandparents (or parents for that matter) how they got to know some of their closest friends, two likely answers include “at the club” or “through church.” In generations past, membership groups were traditionally built around institutions such as schools, rotary clubs, alumni associations, religious affiliations, and the local tennis or golf club. Three of the biggest membership drivers included legacy relationships (family ties, political views, and societal expectations), proximity (area where you lived), and the promise of upward mobility.

Since then, technology has broken down many of the barriers that previously divided us as a society. In many circumstances, legacy relationships no longer carry the weight (or pressure) they may have in the past, zip code doesn’t define one’s ability to participate, and career advancement can now be facilitated in many different, and often more efficient, ways thanks to digital platforms like LinkedIn. 

Membership isn’t restricted to shared socioeconomic class, demographic, or social pedigree, but instead built around a common purpose. For millennials, the desire for “access” has been replaced by the desire to connect.  Millennials report that a primary draw is the opportunity to bond with a community of like-minded people over shared interests and values. They are looking for communities to grow alongside, rather than grow towards.

It is important to note that there is no shortage of opportunities to “connect” online. Facebook Groups attract a billion users on a monthly basis, with communities dedicated to anything from Mark Zuckerberg’s year-long Book Club to a support group for people whose names are always mispronounced. Technology has enabled more efficient ways of organizing and communicating within membership groups, but when it comes to inspiring a deeper level of connection and engagement, digital platforms can fall short.

Herein lies the opportunity for modern-day membership organizations: finding a balance between the efficiency and accessibility of online communication tools with the personal connection of offline interaction.

The proof is in the pudding. Various successful millennial membership organizations that were initially built for online-only interaction, such as Levo League, have since expanded to incorporate live events in an effort to foster a more tangible sense of community. Meetup.com has built a thriving business with over 32 million members by simply providing the ability to connect groups of people online for in-person gatherings dedicated to particular interests, demographics, or shared goals.

Across generations, our inherent desire to seek out a sense of belonging remains the same. However, as millennial priorities shift with today’s digital reality, so does the criteria we look for in a community.  

Here are some of the key considerations attracting millennial membership:

Flexibility

The rigid nature of many traditional membership clubs is being overturned by competitors offering greater flexibility. We see this playing out particularly in the fitness and health club space with millennials trading in club or location-specific commitments in favor of ClassPass memberships that provide access to a variety of gyms and fitness studios.

Online/Offline Balance

Amidst the ultra-connected reality of digital nomads, millennials are seeking out in-person experiences. According to the popular event platform Eventbrite, nearly 80% millennials say that attending live events makes them feel more connected to other people, their community, and the world. Examples such as Summit and Nexus have built a strong membership by convening attendees at physical events followed by ongoing engagement online.

Defined Mission or Shared Purpose

With no shortage of competition, organizations that clearly represent the opportunity to be part of something bigger can also have an advantage when it comes to millennial commitment. Examples such as Association of Young Americans, DoSomething.org, and Global Shapers are built around the shared goal to change the world for the better, together. And with Meetup groups ranging as small as a few members to thousands, people are no longer limited to uniting over mainstream interests such as political affiliation; technology has enable us to connect over far more niche passions.

Work/Life Integration

Given technology’s influence on how we work and live simultaneously, it’s no surprise that working millennials are drawn to communities that are built around the integration of professional and personal goals. Coworking communities such as WeWork and Impact Hub, as well as member clubs targeting motivated professionals such as the Wing, cater to the overlap of millennials’ personal and professional lives with entrepreneurial environments designed to inspire connectivity and productivity.

Partnership Value

By leveraging relationships with local businesses and partners, member clubs are creating unique experiences and continually evolving to meet the needs of members rather than restricting activity to within the parameters of one physical location.  

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