Old Members Are The Future!

Deirdre Reid wrote a post this week about dealing with a dearth of young leaders in associations. I’m going to take a good crack at the idea we have to increase the percentage of young people in our organizations and I wanted to give Deirdre credit for kicking off this idea when I read her post.

By 2050 over 25% of the population in the U.S. will be 60 years or older according to government projections. 1 in 4! That’s compared to about 18% today. Given overall population growth, that represents more than 50 million new people 60 years or older in 2050 compared to now.

Old people are the future.

A lot of associations complain about how old their membership is. Given the way demographics are going, we better get used to it!

I also wonder how many of the 50 and 60 year old members of today were active leaders of their association 30 years ago. I’d wager a beer that it’s a very low percentage for many organizations. Our personal activities are driven by the professional and life stages in which we are immersed. Perhaps we are being too hard on ourselves about not having a lot of youth involved in the organization. Perhaps they just truly don’t care or we aren’t in the business of providing the value they are looking for at this point in their lives. Or there simply aren’t enough of them!

It is always worthwhile to take a step back and give our assumptions a few solid kicks and see which of them fall over and which stand up to scrutiny. Maybe you should be trying to get more ‘old’ members engaged rather than tilting at the young member windmill.

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The Growth Trap

I’ve written and spoken much about how associations and non-profits in general tend to have a hard time ending programs and services. You can read more about this here: Slaying Sacred Zombie Cows.

I’m going to take this same idea in a bit of a different direction today. Many organizations innovate through growth. As membership increases or non-dues revenue goes up, they now have more resources with which to start new initiatives. Innovating new value is much easier for leaders when you have a healthy growing organization. You can just put that new money to work and let the rest of things carry on, avoiding tough conversations and decisions.

The challenge comes when that growth stops or reverses, something many have become familiar with over the past year or so. If the only way your organization can innovate is through growth, then you now face a serious problem: just when you need to be the most nimble you are actually at your least flexible.

This is what I call the Growth Trap: relying only on growth for change traps you in the status quo when that growth goes away. Thus, being able to stop doing things not only makes for a more responsive organization, it is an existential necessity in tough times.

If your organization has come through the depths of the recession, you have probably learned how to stop doing things that are no longer of value, allowing you to reallocate those resources. Don’t forget this precious skill once your revenues are back on the upswing. It will continue to serve you well in good times and will make it much easier for you to weather the inevitable downturns when they come.

That skill will help you to escape the growth trap.