This Just In

New Survey Indicates Gen X and Y Seek New Association and Trade Show Models


Syracuse, NY — The William E. Smith Institute for Association Research today released the Institute’s first research report that looks at generational differences pertaining to membership in trade and professional organizations. The findings appear to be good news for associations that produce, own or sponsor trade shows.

“This is a big sigh of relief for many people,” said Dave Weil, senior director of convention and trade show services for  SmithBucklin. “There was some fear that Generations X and Y would join associations in decreased numbers and that trade shows would therefore have a smaller base of people to draw upon,” he said.

The study, led by Dr. Arthur C. Brooks, director of the Nonprofit Studies Program at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, sought to determine whether the traits of Generations X and Y presented a danger to future membership in associations.

Brooks noted that much has been written over the past 20 years about the low participation level of younger generations in civic and voluntary organizations.  The two reasons usually cited for this phenomenon are the low birthrates in the years following the Baby Boom and a supposed tendency of those born in the 1960s and later not to participate civically.    “As a result of these assumptions, which never considered trade and professional associations specifically, many people concluded that younger generations will be less likely to join these organizations, and that population trends will make the problem even worse,” said Brooks.

However, findings from the Institute’s new research report  indicate that Generations X and Y (those born after 1965) are likely to join associations at higher rates than Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964). About a quarter of the population belonged to an association in 2004. Thirty-two percent were Baby Boomers; 33 percent Generation X and 24 percent Generation Y. Association membership can be expected to rise over the next 10 years from about 51 million members to about 55 million in 2015, the research found.

Weil said the survey also demonstrates the challenges that trade show managers need to address to draw Generation X and Y to their events.  “One challenge is to provide information in different ways that will address the needs of different age groups,” he said. “That could mean special sessions for those new to an industry, first-time attendees or those seeking specific career development tracks,” Weil said.

Programming needs to be targeted to more specific market segments,” he said. It also needs to clearly illustrate how it will help attendees advance their careers in ways they can’t find on the Internet. “We need to understand the demographics and invest in more targeted marketing,” Weil said.

Brooks said associations can make the first move by adding value through networking, mentoring and educational opportunities. Generations X and Y want more than a membership card, he said. “Associations are part of the way that disconnected young, mobile professionals can advance their careers,” Brooks said.

The William E. Smith Institute was established by SmithBucklin to fund new practice-based research that is delivered to the association community free of charge.  The mission of the Institute is to provide the latest, most useful information and insights to volunteer and staff leaders on topics, issues and trends that help advance the growth of associations and enhance the value delivered to the constituencies they serve.

SmithBucklin is the world’s largest association management and professional services company that manages more than $200 million in annual client budgets. It has offices in Chicago, Washington, DC, St. Louis and Durham, NC.

Reach Dr. Arthur C. Brooks at (315) 443-3719; and David Weil, SmithBucklin at (312) 644-6610 or