Today’s Youth Are On A Quest For Authenticity And Community


Imagine the following conversation.

Eeeeghads! Our organization will fade away in 10-15 years if we don’t start reaching a younger generation.

Our membership is mostly Baby Boomers. Most will retire in 15 years. We’re not sure if they will retain membership with us or not.

We’ve got to attract more GenX and Millennials. What do we do? Where do we start?

This conversation is one of the most common we hear from association leaders.

What Motivates Youth Today

So what motivates young people today? Is it money? Fame? Beauty? Success?

What makes them different from the generations that have come before them?

The McCann Worldgroup asked 7,000 16-30 year olds around the world these very questions. They found some startling truths and identified 16 of their motivations.

Global Unifying Motivations

Three motivations rose to the top and transcended all borders. Regardless of the country, youth ranked them at the top. Ironically young people are not the fame-seeking obsessives that many assume they are.

1. Authenticity

Youth have a need to see things as they really are. They don’t want spin and twisting of words to make something appear better than it really is. They want accurate and genuine realism. They can see through sales, inaccuracy and bias.

2. Community

Youth have a strong need for connection, relationships and community. They want to feel a sense of belonging, acceptance and respect. They want to connect with like minds as well as industry veterans.

3. Justice

Youth have a strong need for social and personal justice. They want to do what is right. They want to be an activist. However, they do not feel they have to join an organization to be an activist. They can self-organize their friends for justice by using social tools. They don’t feel the need to pay a membership fee so an organization can lobby on their behalf.

The Honest Truth

The organizations that young people around the world say they want to “hang out with,” are those that promote truth, authenticity and originality. In a world of “fake friends” and curated identities they seek truth.

Their idols are more accessible than ever. Untouchable celebrities now have their entire lives exposed online. Often, these idols are easy to connect with through social networks and they respond to individual followers quickly.

Youth prefer celebrities that are connected to real life and not “preachy.” They want stars with substance as well as style. They also prefer celebrities that have a strong point of view.

They admire Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Marie Curie, Angelina Jolie, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. They also mention their parents when asked to name famous people.

Strong Words For Association Leadership

Association leaders should heed the words of today’s youth, especially if they want to attract more to their organization.

Unfortunately, association leaders are not as accessible or as admirable as many famous celebrities. Their social network activity is sparse and infrequent. They don’t respond to questions from youth in Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Requests like this go unnoticed.

Youth sense that many organizations spin their decisions. They feel that association leaders are not honest, genuine and truthful. They often feel that they lack a strong point of view or vision.

If associations want to attract younger people, this has to change. They have to find ways to communicate more authentically with younger potential members. Association leaders have to become more accessible. And they need to start communicating with youth using today’s communication tools.

How does this research impact your organization and its future? What are some other things associations can do to attract younger generations? If you are a GenX or Millennial, tell us what you expect from associations today in order to get your membership.

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  1. Great post Jeff! Thank you for sharing some good qualities about the Millennial generation and bringing this issue up for discussion.

    I agree when you said that, “However, they do not feel they have to join an organization to be an activist. They can self-organize their friends for justice by using social tools. They don’t feel the need to pay a membership fee so an organization can lobby on their behalf.”

    Because of this… Young individuals entering the workforce aren’t looking for lobbying as much as education.

    And I don’t mean education similar to that you may find in a business text book or online articles. We’ve left college with a lot of current “book” education and what we want are hands-on, real life business lessons from established individuals in our specific industry.

    We want help learning the things you can’t learn in a classroom such as the plethora of knowledge that comes from working.

    That large baby boomer generation you mentioned is a HUGE asset to Millennials. We seek mentors and individuals willing to educate us on how to be successful in the actual workforce. We seek mentors that we can go to on a personal level for professional advice.

    If associations can offer mentor programs or events where Young Professionals can ask questions and get feedback they will definitely find value in joining an association to connect them to the best of the best in the industry.

    Hope this suggestion is helpful! 🙂

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and responding. Your comments about book education and Baby Boomer members being an asset to Millennials are so on target. Now if we can just get association leadership to find creative ways to bring the two groups together! Good insights for sure.

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  3. […] This post was written by Jeff Hurt and was originally published on his own blog Velvet Chainsaw […]

  4. Tricia says:

    Thanks for the post! Many of us in Medical Societies see this as critical to the future of our associations. We must not just add post-its to our brand, but renovate its entire culture in order to survive. I’m still hunting for specifics, but this article gives me “thinking tools” to go forward.

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