Getting the busters and keeping the boomers.
The lines of demarcation are fuzzy, but at 33-52 years old or so, the 76 million baby boomers, as opposed to the 41 million baby busters, age 21-32, still shake the biggest rattle in town. (These figures, which vary somewhat among sources, are quoted from the November 11, 1996, National Review.)Boomers are looking for meaningful experiences, large-print books, and other such elements of maturity, and if associations don't provide them, these late 1940s to early 1960s babies could take their toys and go home.
Boomers hold nearly all the major leadership positions at many associations, except for those carried by their elders - the preboomers, or adaptives. Boomers make up much of associations' collective membership, too, so if boomers didn't show up for conferences there'd be a lot of empty ballrooms and podiums. They have decades of service left to offer and a reputation for loyalty to their associations. If that's not enough, they're also inheriting $10 trillion from their parents, according to a 1994 study by Cornell University, which means they'll have plenty of money for the right kinds of products and services.
Meanwhile, the busters are not to be trifled with either. They're said to be brash and brusque, with chips on their shoulders because they haven't received what they were promised: good jobs and a seat at the leadership table. They are serious and ambitious, and they are establishing families much earlier than many of the ever-adolescent baby boomers in search of Utopia did. Busters did college with careers in mind, and they want their continuing education in "training moments," says Rhea Blanken, president of Results Technology, Inc., in Bethesda, Maryland. And did we forget to mention, they'd like it all now?
One thing for certain is that by the year 2007, we'll all be 10 years older, including the as-yet unnamed group of individuals who will have made their play dates via cell phone and received e-mail from their preschool teachers. According to a U.S. Census report, in July 1995 there were 45 million children between the ages of 5 and 17.
Appealing to all generations
"If you don't have the boomers, you don't have members," says Henry L. Ernstthal, CAE, president of Ernstthal & Associates, Washington, D.C. For almost all organizations, boomers are the core membership group, he says, adding that the challenge is to bring in the birth dearthers. All those things they say about the X'ers, says Ernstthal, with a smile in his voice, well it seems vaguely familiar. If the boomers were bopped for being irreverent and rebellious in their youth, the next generation is getting it for arrogance and lack of respect for the existing power ladder. "Plus ca change, . . ." he says.
Understand that busters are likely to view membership as a "transaction rather than an expression of loyalty," says Ernstthal. "Market your volunteer opportunities as a product and mold the job to the individual," he says. And try to be sensitive to the fact that people of all generations are trying to "keep their heads down and avoid being downsized."
One change Michelle Poskaitis, director of product development and marketing at the American Counseling Association (ACA), Alexandria, Virginia, is seeing in membership is that baby boomers are, ouch, older and wiser. They're not looking for things to acquire as much as experiences, she says. They like continual learning. And they can be loyal if you keep them attached.
Dual-marketing approach. Taking a chance on the somewhat-difficult-to-interpret marketing data it gathered, ACA created an "experiential" membership brochure - soft, almost white recycled paper and earthy burgundy, gold, green, and blue ink. Describing the copy, Poskaitis says, "We never talked about the association as an organizational entity." Instead ACA used "a story-telling technique" and incorporated photos of "members," using soft "whisper graphics," inviting the reader to "experience the partnership." ACA's prospects for this mailing were newly relicensed practitioners in one of several areas her association encompasses. And instead of insisting that new members join one of the association's 12 divisions, ACA simply invited the reader "to design (their) participation."
As they say in the counseling field tell them in a way they can hear. The 8 1/2-inch by 11-inch, 17-page self-mailer was low budget - 32 cents apiece - and high concept, Poskaitis says. It featured lots of soft white space, and included an application and even a demographic survey under the gentle heading "All About You." There's an easy diversity presented through the photos of people, looking uncannily natural.
Poskaitis hopes to capture boomers with the "spirituality" and Zen of the brochure, and busters with the authenticity and appropriateness of the message for her somewhat idealistic and altruistic association.
Attracting entrepreneurial-minded busters
Pharmacy students are a perfect example of the goal-oriented, focused former babies of the mid-sixties and seventies. The cream of the crop, they were chosen for pharmacy schools at an acceptance rate of about one out of four, according to the assistant director of management and student affairs at the National Community Pharmacists Association, Douglas Hoey, a 28-year-old buster.
What do these busters want from NCPA? Hoey says that among many other things, student members of the Alexandria, Virginia, organization, need to know about the entrepreneurial opportunities in an enormously changing landscape of pharmacy. Today even "infusion" (intravenous, etc.) drug delivery, once the exclusive domain of hospitals, can take place at home under the auspices of nurse, physician, and pharmacist consultants.
Grass-roots recruiting. You might say that the buster-recruitment key for the American Pharmaceutical Association (APhA), Washington, D.C., was talking the talk. Student affairs director Jann Hinkle says that she, two other national staffers, and five volunteer leaders visited every single U.S. pharmacy school (count them, 79) during the first four weeks of this school year, spending the better part of a day meeting with the future of their profession.
APhA was so successful, it can barely handle the response. How's this for return on investment? Attendance doubled at the next eight regional meetings, and student membership increased by 12 percent. "Grass roots" is the way to be in touch with your student public, Hinkle says.
Mentoring programs combine generations
Both boomer and buster members have the chance to participate in mentoring and "shadowing" programs through the 50 affiliated chapters of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) in Bethesda, Maryland, according to vice president David D. Almquist, CAE.
The society has 32,000 members - 60 percent baby boomers. Through this program, students and new practitioners can spend a half day on the job with seasoned pharmacists. A mentoring program is also in the works at ASHP to provide long-term assistance to the same group. It could be an interesting experiment in matching the silent adaptives (preboomers) and older boomer groups with the younger busters.
One way his three strata differ, says Almquist, is that only the silent adaptives have a true historical understanding of the birth and development of the society. They represent the founders and individuals who "made it work," he says. They and some of the older boomers recognize the importance of advocacy work in legislative and policy development matters.
Bringing boomers online
"We need to drag them kicking and screaming" into the electronic age, Don Schaefer cheerfully says of his typical members and his role as associate director of the Mid-West Truckers Association (MWT), Springfield, Illinois. Caught on his way to the association's 34th annual convention, Schaefer said a highlight this year, besides the truck show, would be testing and demonstrating "the one stop shop" for getting permits, clearances and licenses online, as well as filing regulatory paperwork via personal computer with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the state police and department of revenue.
"We're the high-tech link," says Schaefer. Is his role here related to the generation of their members? "Absolutely," Schaefer says. "Maybe the X'ers would hack their way in or demand" these things on their own, he says, but for his average members, 45-year-old baby boomers, part of the job is informing them about what they need to be informed about. MWT did "a pretty in-depth survey of their level of technology," asking everything from whether they had an online server to what web pages they'd visited. Speaking of speaking boomers' language, could there be a better journal name than Keep on Truckin'?
High-tech, yet highly personal
The personal touch goes along with high-tech at the New York State Psychological Association (NYSPA), Albany, according to its executive director, Diane Brenner-Kermani. That means no voice mail and many handwritten thank-you notes. NYSPA has a Web page to complement print products. Still, all members get basic mailings, as Brenner-Kermani believes that timed regular mailings are a key element of staying in touch. Her belief in the power of TLC applies to all generations and she has some special insights into reaching people older than 30.
Boomers are financially squeezed for the most part, Brenner-Kermani says, with their kids growing up and approaching college and their profession under tremendous pressure from changes such as managed care. "There's a typically unspoken fear of being put out to pasture," she says.
When Brenner-Kermani came to NYSPA nine years ago, there were virtually no personal member benefits, she says. To help retain its boomer members, the association instituted a package of attractions ranging from discounts to Wait Disney World to discounted legal services, a statewide referral service, and health and disability insurance.
Whether it's applying more tender loving care to members, revamping long-standing volunteer programs, or revising products and practices in any other way, associations are acknowledging the need to appeal to members of various age groups and are seeking to bridge the generation gap.
RELATED ARTICLE: Bridging the Gap
Reaching out to baby busters when your association has focused for so long on the previous generation can be tough. Here are some tips and insights to assist you.
* Busters like their education in "training moments," says Rhea Blanken. Restructure your workshops to acknowledge the desires of younger attendees.
* Busters like their volunteer opportunities in customized segments, too. Young professionals want projects instead of standing committees. We should be moving toward an "ad hocracy," says Henry L. Ernstthal.
* The American Pharmaceutical Association embraced busters by putting a student observer on the board.
* Feeling clueless? If you're feeling a bit out of your element, there's nothing wrong with getting a little unorthodox professional development. Go rent the movie Clueless, like Blanken did, or the very fashionable Reality Bites. Or watch MTV or any of the newer sitcoms featuring Buster characters. Blanken says she just asks people what they like about things they're buying or doing. In other words, be out there.
* Don't call Busters X'ers. "They hate that," says Blanken, fresh from a workshop with the whatchamacallits in L.A. ASAP generation? "They don't like to be lumped together," she says. They're a diverse group, serious and committed in their own fashion.
* Busters like straightforwardness. If you suggest there's a benefit, make sure you follow through. "They don't like exaggerations," says Poskaitis.
* "As you know . . ."; "As you remember . . ."; if you hear these phrases coming out of your mouth, Blanken says, it's a sure sign you're living in the past. If they already knew, you wouldn't need to tell them.
* Get 'em where they live. For many associations, members are born in graduate school.
That boomers have been your members forever, is no reason not to take a fresh look at them from time to time.
* One thing up-to-date associations have to offer boomers is busters. Student members and newer practitioners bring a different world view to the conversation, says Jann Hinkle. And Hinkle should know: a buster at 29 years old, she says that many pharmacists in her age group have a more participatory approach to patient care than some older practitioners. They wouldn't hesitate, for example, to call a prescribing doctor and question a medication order, she says.
* Unless you have bionic members, almost all of your boomers will be bespectacled within the next five years. Make your materials readable, even if bumping up that type size increases your paper cost. And avoid glossy paper, it causes glare.
Additional insights about baby busters can be found in Management Generation X, by Bruce Tulgan, which is available from ASAE. To order, call (202) 371-0940, fax (202) 408-9634, or e-mail email@example.com, and refer to product AM250039; the cost is $19.95 plus sales tax and shipping costs.
Cathleen O'Connor Schoultz is a freelance writer in Arlington, Virginia.