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What Professional Associations Owe to Their Young Members

Apr 25, 2022 | Economics

In today’s world, young people are increasingly required to do more — collect degrees, get that certification, publish that paper — in order to get less than their predecessors. Being involved with a professional association is yet another requirement for young professionals to move forward in their careers; this signals to recruiters that they are in tune with best practices and engaged in continued learning. However, the cost of membership is typically not always accessible for early-career individuals, nor is it a priority in personal budgets.

An estimated 4 million students plan to graduate college this May and will be entering an ever-challenging market where, according to a report from the University of Washington, it takes graduates approximately 3 to 6 months to secure a job. But even when jobs are found, many of them are not relevant to an individual’s area of study and don’t require a degree. Additionally, the burden of student loans continues to hold younger generations back from achieving the same wealth as their predecessors. Professional associations have the opportunity to address this gap by supporting young individuals in their field, but they can only do this by implementing equitable pricing structures.

The goal of a professional association is to advance a particular profession and support the individuals within that field. Associations exist for a variety of professions. Finance professionals, airline pilots, visual artists, environmentalists, and others can all find an association that aligns with their interests. Associations are committed to providing resources and programming geared toward professional development — including workshops, conferences, publications, best practices, and more. Additionally, professional associations serve as a network to connect people nationally or internationally, based on the association’s membership. 

Participation in a professional association typically requires an annual membership dues fee. According to a 2011 study, average membership dues can range from $100 to $350. The pricing structure is dependent on the size and scope of the association. Larger, more prestigious associations tend to charge more. Typically, annual dues increase year after year. Moreover, monetary payouts do not stop at membership dues. Access to programs and events may also require additional fees, including registration for workshops and conferences or conference submission fees. 

Compounding costs often act as a barrier to entry for young professionals. Associations can engage with more young professionals if they work to tear down this barrier. One way to address pricing issues is to implement an equitable pricing structure. 

Typically, associations have a few membership categories, most commonly including regular, international, and student member tiers. While I applaud associations for including student membership as an option, the pricing structure does not accommodate recent graduates. Associations need to make their benefits accessible to young professionals who may struggle to find employment after graduation and are affected by the ever-expanding generational wealth gap. 

One solution is for an association to create distinct discounted membership categories for young members. Options include a recent graduate tier for those who graduated within the past one to two years or a young professional tier for individuals in the first 5 to 10 years of their career. The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) already implements such a strategy by offering a discounted young professional membership to anyone under the age of 35.

Associations could also consider specialized pricing for first-generation college graduates. First-generation students, who tend to have more trouble getting jobs and tend to earn less than their peers, could greatly benefit from association programs. Mentorships, workshops, and other professional development or skills-based training could help level the playing field for an association’s first-generation members.

Another approach to equitable pricing is implementing income-based or economic indicators-based membership pricing. For example, the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA) offers tiered pricing based on the World Bank Economic Indicators. This strategy may grant a larger audience access to membership, as this change could benefit young professionals, low-income individuals, and international constituents.  

Engaging members at the start of their careers can influence their long-term commitment to the organization. Creating flexible pricing structures can increase retention rates of graduating student members, encourage recent graduates to join as new members, and boost overall revenue. After implementing its equitable pricing structure, the ILCA reported that they’ve, “…more than doubled the number of members from medium and low-resourced countries.” 

Attracting young members is vital to the continued success of professional associations. Younger generations are markedly more philanthropic with both their time and money. Therefore, they are likely to provide a large volunteer and donor base for the associations to which they are committed. They are also actively interested in seeking out the professional development opportunities offered by associations as long as it is reasonably priced and budget friendly. As a result, many associations are investing in advisory committees, altering communication strategies, and hosting events to attract and engage young members. But even as associations make these changes, costs will continue to prevent members from joining.

Featured Image by ian dooley on Unsplash.

  • Solai Sanchez is the 2021-2022 Managing Print Editor of the PPJ. She is a second-year MPA student with a special interest in nonprofit management. Originally from Pennsylvania, Solai moved to Washington, D.C. after she earned a B.A. in archaeology from Dickinson College in 2015. Solai is currently the Member Engagement Manager at the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society and a board member of a DC-based nonprofit, Archaeology in the Community. In both of these roles, she is focused on community building and promoting the power of education. After graduation, she hopes to continue working in the nonprofit sector doing work that focuses on community building, equity and program evaluation.

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