The following is a special post from Brooke Rossi, our summer Marketing Intern. Brooke is starting her senior year at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, majoring in Professional Communication and Emerging Media. Before returning to school, Brooke agreed to share her thoughts and impressions of associations as a soon-to-be graduate entering the professional world.

Before starting my summer Marketing Internship at Omnipress, I had very little knowledge of associations. My initial impression was that people typically joined them through their workplace with little enthusiasm and only for some level of prestige that comes with membership. I thought there were a limited variety of associations to join, focusing on broad disciplines, and didn’t realize how expansive (and specialized) the association universe is. Just four months ago, I wouldn’t have thought about associations and their impact on nearly every aspect of local and global societies. Without an understanding of the association world, I wasn’t even aware of the extent of educational and advancement opportunities available through education, credentialing and industry-related certifications. Real change happens because of associations, and I was completely blind to it!

WSAADTATYP? (What Should An Association Do to Appeal to Young Professionals?)

Now that I’ve had the chance to work in an organization that caters to associations, I have a greater appreciation and understanding of why they exist and why they’re so important. And I’m so glad I do! I am already looking into associations that touch my field of study. I wondered how many of my peers—students getting ready to enter the workforce—shared my same level of appreciation and understanding. I reached out to several friends to see what they knew, and whether associations were even on their radar. Most had given associations very little thought. Once I explained some of what I had learned, many of them indicated they would consider joining a professional association after graduation specifically for the continued education and networking opportunities. Associations: this means there is a huge opportunity to get in front of young professionals much, much earlier in the process, and to do a better job explaining what you do and you can offer us. You also need to help remove some of the inherent barriers that will prevent us from pulling the trigger. Here are just a few ideas for you to consider when looking for ways to engage more young professionals.

Set Up Early Outreach Programs

As I quickly learned from surveying my own peer group, many young professionals aren’t seeking out associations. To start enticing new professionals who do not yet know about you, visit them before they even graduate. Look for universities with corresponding degrees and create on-campus events and programming geared toward students entering the profession. Or, participate in existing events such as an on-site career fair. I know that any time I attend an event on campus related to my degree, it makes me more excited to get out and pursue a career, and knowing that I would already have a community to ease that transition would energize me more.

Create a Newbie-Friendly Environment

To recent graduates, joining a group of seasoned, industry veterans can be intimidating. Consider providing onboarding programs designed to increase our comfort level. This could mean an exclusive get-together for new members to make initial connections, or a mentorship program to connect a new member with a young professional ambassador—someone who has a few years of membership under their belt, but has been in our shoes recently enough and can show us the ropes.

Market to Our Thrifty Buying Habits

In order to appeal to young professionals entering the workforce, you will want to think about the average financial situation graduates face. With our search for work and a place to live, along with possible college debt, we often think there is nothing left in our wallets for a membership to your association. Throughout the years, I have noticed that my peers are easily deterred by price. We tend to be more frugal with our money, and are hesitant to make purchases that require a large upfront investment. Consider offering a special rate for new graduates, or give us a 90-day free trial for your organization. When we are ready to pull the trigger, provide ways to spread out the cost of membership over a longer period of time, such as monthly billing.

Help Us Grow and Be Adventurous

Opportunities for growth and adventure are valued by young professionals like me. Don’t be too subtle about your benefits of membership. In fact, flaunt them! But make sure they are tailored to where we are in our careers. Emphasize how your certifications and other recognition will help us “climb the ladder” or teach us how to become an effective leader. Or for more of a fun twist, tell us about the fun destinations you can help send us to. We are seeing our friends travel the world on social media, and we do not want to miss out. Giving us an outlet where we can both learn and explore is icing on the cake.

Invest in Your Content

Another thing you will want to think about when looking to gain young members is that we are accustomed to finding information quickly, with just one or two clicks. So having a strong online presence is crucial. But it also has to feature an exceptional user experience. First, you have to make sure I find you. When I do, feature content that immediately provides quality, relevant answers to my most pressing questions. Not sure where to start? Reach out and ask us! Use the channels we already frequent, such as YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram. We are more than happy to tell you what’s on our minds.

Young Professionals Need Your Association…We Just Don’t Know it Yet!

Associations provide the learning and development opportunities young professionals crave. But you can’t take for granted that we’ll figure this out immediately upon graduation. We first need to understand what associations are and why they exist before we even consider joining one. Then, we need to have a firm understanding of what your association can do for me, while making membership as easy as possible. Do whatever you can to remove the barriers to membership, whether real (financial) or perceived. If you make a genuine commitment to us, the good news is you’ll have gained life-long learners who would love to advocate on your behalf, further spreading your mission to professionals that don’t know they need you yet.