Many millennials spend their money on products and services from organizations that they believe represent their values—a practice known as ethical consumerism. For associations that want to attract and retain millennial members and others who are similarly selective in their spending, responding to ethical consumerism is becoming an important part of membership recruitment and retention strategy.
Ethical consumers often base their buying, giving, or investing decisions on an organization’s positions and business practices related to the environment, treatment of workers, animal welfare, policy issues, and product sustainability. Because this movement in consumer behavior has direct business impacts, it is changing marketing strategies in both for-profit and nonprofit organizations.
With their focus on mission and community building, associations are well positioned to tap into members’—and potential members’—interest in supporting organizations that align with their values. To do that, you need to ensure that members know what you stand for and how you perform in the areas that ethical consumers care about.
Emphasis on Mission
As part of your marketing plan, speak directly to the “why” behind your association’s mission. ASAE’s Power of A program, for example, ties the work we do in associations to the impact we have on the communities we serve. The more you can tell your story and make a connection to the people your organization benefits (beyond your members), the more you will build that positive relationship with your members. For example, if your organization is a medical society, are you telling the public about how your work to educate and certify healthcare professionals results in better patient care and medical advancements to help more people?
With their focus on mission and community building, associations are well positioned to tap into members’—and potential members’—interest in supporting organizations that align with their values.
Taking a few days to hold a staff canned-food drive may seem routine. But in a world of ethical consumerism, it may motivate members and others to support your organization—and reinforce your members’ commitment to you—because such activities align with their values.
Association conferences are a great opportunity to bring people together for community service projects. In one example, Association Forum incorporated into its summer conference its annual charity project raising funds and supplies for The Cradle, a local nonprofit that serves pregnant women and their children. This kind of activity contributes to a culture of giving that resonates with members of all ages—and especially with millennials—because it shows them that you run an ethical organization that they can feel good about supporting.
My organization, the Illinois Park and Recreation Association, has incorporated service projects as requirements for graduation in our mentoring and leadership training programs. Each year, the service events are more highly rated on evaluations than any other aspects of the programs. We publish press releases about the service we provide, and sharing those stories helps us to recruit more people to those programs in the future, because our values resonate with our members.
Fundraising for Others
An outward focus on supporting others is important even when your organization is struggling financially. I have experienced several situations in which an association facing financial challenges took the counterintuitive approach of banding together to fundraise for someone else, such as the United Way, or gathering donated toys at the holidays for families in need. Time and time again, this approach helps the association in indirect ways like nothing else can: It brings people together, it fosters positive and helpful behavior, and it resets what may be a pessimistic mood in the organization to one of gratitude and hope. Such projects reassure employees and volunteers that the association’s leaders still have their hearts in the right place.
Take a moment to consider the “why” behind your mission and the ways that your organization can serve your community, then identify how to better tell that story. Members will see you as more than just the place that collects their annual dues in return for some professional development opportunities. Instead, they will see you as an ethical and socially conscious organization that they can feel good about belonging to and supporting.