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Those of us who are old enough can remember the government of Canada's initiative called "ParticipACTION". The government was concerned that the inactive lifestyles of many Canadians would lead to an increase in health issues. ParticipACTION was created to motivate Canadians to develop more active and healthy styles of living.

Associations today face a similar problem – lack of active participation by members. Members do not attend meetings and do not want to participate in the administration of the association. In my consulting practice I have heard these concerns on numerous occasions. This lack of interest and participation is not a unique situation and can become very unhealthy for the association.

Without active participation effective administration of the association in the future will be jeopardized. If younger members are not willing to participate in the administration of the association then there will be no mentorship for the younger members. The lack of younger members on boards will mean their views and ideas may not be known or considered. Younger members will feel more isolated and become even less willing to participate in the association.

So what is causing this lack of interest by its members?

The first consideration is to examine the values of the different generations.

Statistics Canada in its report Canada's Population Estimates: Age and Sex (July 1, 2009), breakdowns the working population as follows:

Total People in Labour Force Generation Number Percentage
All Groups Born Before 1946 Mature 460,000 3%
1946-1965 Baby Boomers 6,988,700 38%
1966-1980 Generation X 6,079,000 33%
1981-2000 Millennials 4,841,100 26%
Note: percentages are rounded   18,368,800 100%


Assuming associations would have a similar age breakdown as the total population then the values of the age groups would be significant when trying to understand what motivates members.

John Izzo, in his book, "Values Shift", describes the values of Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials. The chart (pages 40 to 45) below summarizes Izzo's findings.

Baby Boomers Generation X Millennials
Optimistic Not loyal to the company Not loyal to the company
Believe in long term rewards for company loyalty. Cynical Confident and sometimes have an overblown sense of entitlement.
Respect for institutions. Delay long term relationships and parenting. Embrace cultural diversity and various family configurations.
Questions authority but want to succeed in the corporate world. See boomers as making decisions and then asking for approval. Focus on local issues and tune out grand schemes
Rebel against authority but desire it. Reluctant to speak out. Averse to rules and hierarchy but want mentoring, community and recognition.
Feel guilty about what work has done to their home life in their midlife. Entrepreneurial Tech savvy
Search for work life balance in their midlife and rebel against long hours. Tech savvy  
Want to be involved in pursuits other than the bottom line.    


In my work with associations, the board of directors are mostly comprised of Baby Boomers. Based on the values just described the Generation X and Millennials either are cynical of institutions or do not like the rules and hierarchy of institutions, like associations. In some cases, members view their association dues like an insurance policy, meaning the association has no value to the member unless representation is required.

So how do associations and unions get Generation X and Millennials more involved?

Firstly, how Baby Boomers define involvement will have to change. Generation X and Millennials use technology to interact both at a business level and social level. Technology will have to be used more effectively to engage these generations. This will include electronic surveys, electronic voting, and the development of engaging communications, to name a few.

The board structure will have to be revisited. For example, the board composition will require representation from the younger generations. Representation of these generations will allow the Baby Boomers to learn firsthand what the Generation X and Millennials want from their association. It will also provide an avenue for younger members to become engaged and be part of the solution.

Succession plans will have to be developed. These plans will have to include mentorship of the younger board members by the Baby Boomers.

Associations will have to change their messaging to their members. Membership value will have to be a priority in association messages. Members have to understand what they receive for their dues.

These are challenging times for associations. However, if the value system of the Generation X members and Millennials members is understood, then change can be made now to ensure a strong association for the future.

This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2021 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

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