Oh engagement.

Coming off the Valentine’s Day holiday, mere mention of the word maintains its rosy glow as that most symbolic of next steps in a relationship, deepening a commitment in (what is often) a romance-fueled moment where two people agree to build a life and a future together.

In the nonprofit world, the word engagement takes on a slightly less sentimental definition but is no less important as we look to build, and strengthen, our bonds with constituents. Today’s member engagement is about expanding beyond transactional data. It is about those things plus value creation and using that value to deliver a compelling experience members can’t help but want to be a part of.

This is all happening while the world we live in is becoming increasingly interconnected. An explosion of publicly available content has given members accessibility to a variety of product, services and information services. No generation has benefited more from this environment than young members, commonly identified as those who are Millennials (1981-1996) and Generation Z (1997-2012). According to Forbes, Gen Z uses an average of 5 different screens – smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop and tablet – to peruse information media, compared to millennials who typically switch back and forth between 3 screens.

With all the interconnectivity and information available you would think it would be easy to engage young members, right? Or does the seemingly endless collection of platforms and channels make engagement harder?

Personify took the step of fielding our own original research and in December of last year asked 1,000 Millennials and Generation Z members for their perspective on a variety of topics. Our recent published Young Members 2.0 report examined not only the preferences of Millennials and Generation Z with regards to awareness and making the decision to join, but also sought to understand how they engage with the organizations they join.

The (Continued) Power of Email

With an early exposure to technology and smart devices, it’s no surprise that email is often the go-to communication tool for Millennials and Gen Z. According to Adobe’s fourth annual Consumer Email Survey, workers between ages 25 and 34 spend 6.4 hours a day checking their email. Generation Z in particular views email as essential, per The Future of Digital Communications, a study by SendGrid and Egg Strategy, and expects their use of email to grow.

These preferences extend into young members’ relationships with their association. Our report found:

  • Almost three-quarters of young members report receiving email from their association often, either in the form of a newsletter (72%) or a more personalized message (73%) and both are effective in keeping young members informed and up-to-date.
  • A majority report a preference for content weekly or more, with Gen Z members having a slightly higher appetite for greater frequency.

Staying Social

While email was a top engagement channel for young members in our report, social media also plays a critical role in keeping young members informed. Pew Research reports the typical 18- to 29-year-old surveyed in their research uses four social media platforms, whereas the average 30- to 49-year-old uses three. According to our data:


Percentage saying their association reaches them often via this channel


Percentage reporting this channel is effective in keeping them informed

Facebook 58% 80%
Twitter 40% 74%
Instagram 46% 76%
Snapchat 35% 68%
LinkedIn 37% 74%


With opportunities for high-impact videos and visual stories that capture members who look and sound like them, Instagram ranked second among our survey respondents, with almost half of young members reporting they use it to keep up with their association and over three-quarters saying it’s an effective way to stay in touch. Surprisingly, few young members – just over one in ten – report engaging with their organization via Linked In.

Standing Out…Via Phone?

Reach out and touch someone with a phone call? Really?

Only one third of young members report receiving phone calls from their association yet a larger percentage of young members report phone calls work, with 78 percent of all members saying phone calls are either somewhat or very effective in engaging them. Almost half of Generation Z found these phone calls very effective.

When was the last time your organization called a young member to check in and talk about something other than a dues renewal? When it comes to engagement – creating and articulating the value membership provides – these opportunities for 1:1 interaction can prove invaluable in driving short-, and long-term, satisfaction.

Up Close and Personal at Events

We know in-person conversations play a large role in influencing a young member’s decision to join and engagement. Content is king, serving as a primary value driver for membership. The intersection of these preferences can be found at events.

When asked whether they had attended an in-person event for their association in the last 24 months, 81 percent of all respondents responded yes, with the number of Generation Z members attending events slightly lower than the overall average (77%). Which events are they attending? Workshops and trainings were at the top of the list with 49 percent, followed by parties (31%), networking events (30%) and a community service event (26%).

While satisfaction with these events was high, with 91 percent of young members reporting the events attended were at least somewhat valuable, a surprising 29 percent failed to receive any sort of post-event follow-up from their association – leaving a huge opportunity for engagement on the table.

Engaging Young Members

Today’s young members face a relentless bombardment of information and knowledge from a myriad of sources and bring to membership rising expectations of the value from their association. How can you stand out from the crowd and improve engagement with this growing demographic?

  • The first step is to identify and acknowledge young members as a unique target market, and to understand their needs and desired experiences. Take the time to understand their goals, attitudes and perceptions regarding engagement and give them a seat at the table to ensure their voices are heard.
  • Align outreach efforts with the preferences of young members and use each opportunity to consistently reinforce the value of association engagement. Newsletters, long a cornerstone of association communication programs and popular with the young members surveyed in Personify’s research, offer a great place to start.
  • Don’t neglect the power of your people. Young members’ need for connection extends beyond recruitment. Create ample opportunities for 1:1 engagement, not only within your programming but also in regular communication.
  • Stretch the value of events. Leverage a strong follow-up process, with testimonials from members who look and sound like them, to make a lasting impression. Create working groups in private communities to keep learning fresh and use the unexpected personal touch of a phone call to create a personal connection

Interest in learning more about what this means for your organization?

Watch our on-demand Webinar