CEOs Ask, Young Professionals Answer

Industry CEOs want to know about millennials. Three young professionals from the Association Forum community offered their responses.

By Jen Creed

Business people standing together in office having casual discussion. Corporate professional having informal meeting in office corridor.

Keelin Billue, Marketing Specialist, Foundation for Anesthesia Education and Research

Keelin Billue is a marketing specialist at the Foundation for Anesthesia Education and Research, an organization related to the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA). She specializes in association and research foundation stewardship, marketing, design, and communications.

Jean Boisson, Talent Acquisition Specialist, American Osteopathic Association

Jean Boisson is a talent acquisition specialist at the American Osteopathic Association, which serves as the professional family for more than 137,000 osteopathic physicians and medical students across the U.S. With primary responsibilities of recruitment and onboarding, Boisson enjoys the challenge of finding the right person for the job. His motto is “Hire the right person, in the right position, at the right time!”

Francesca Malin, Event Manager, SmithBucklin

Francesca Malin is an event manager for SmithBucklin, an association management and services company. Fueled by her creative edge, her specialty is in delivering experiential events that engage attendees, create a dynamic environment for learning and networking, and meet the strategic goals of the associations she serves.

Associations, like all organizations in today’s world, face a common challenge: How to appeal to and engage with millennials. Whether it’s as consumers, members, or employees, we want to know what they want, what’s important to them, and how to keep them engaged.

These questions are especially relevant in designing the future workplace. How do we attract and retain emerging talent? What can our organization offer that will resonate with young professionals? Numerous reports, such as Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends and Mercer’s 2018 Global Talent Trends, provide insightful data and analysis on this subject, and some common themes are apparent. For example, millennials desire ongoing professional development. They also look for agility in their employers—not only in adapting to, but leading change. And they want a work experience full of purpose.

The reports’ conclusions mirror what we’re finding anecdotally in our workplaces. For this article, we asked association industry CEOs what they most wanted to know about millennials. Three young professionals from the Association Forum community offered their responses.

What attracts young professionals to the association industry, even if the benefits may not be as robust as at a for-profit entity and the missions may not be as cause-based as other nonprofits?

Question submitted by: Denise Freier, CEO, Strategic Account Management Association

Billue: Similar to many of my younger colleagues, I landed into the nonprofit world by way of a temporary staffing agency. I was completely unaware of this realm, having only worked in positions at for-profit entities. From my experience, I see associations as a happy medium for those who do not find joy working on behalf of for-profit entities, yet still enjoy the benefits associations can offer. I find that they offer tangible and intangible benefits as well as intellectual stimulation. In my experience working at associations, even if I have a bad day, I know I am doing important work that will help someone else.

As a person with many interests, a “jill-of-all-trades,” I’m so happy associations introduce me to the ins and outs of different professions. When you work for an association, it’s like having an infinite number of careers all rolled into one position. It never gets old.

Boisson: I think the flexibility and work-life balance that the association industry provides is invaluable. We’re living in a time where people are starting to value their freedom a lot more and aren’t necessarily willing to compromise it for a huge paycheck or extravagant benefits. Also, many associations support a cause-based mission, which really appeals to young professionals. At the end of the day, we want to genuinely feel like we’re making a difference.

Malin: My colleagues and I enjoy a wide variety of projects and responsibilities in working for associations. I don’t think we’d have the same opportunities in the for-profit world.

Our work is also meaningful. I am excited when I can help create an event that inspires, educates, and enriches our attendees. I love seeing them arrive onsite ready to immerse themselves in experiences that they know will help them grow as professionals. I’m especially proud when they leave completely energized and ready to make changes in their work that will make a difference – and I know I have contributed to that, even in a small way.

What advice would you give to more seasoned professionals who work closely with younger colleagues? How can they best connect and support each other?

Question submitted by: Geoffrey Brown, CAE, CEO, National Association of Personal Financial Advisors

Billue: I am very lucky to have strong mentors in the association world. To be an outstanding mentor, I believe one should be assertive while also displaying gentleness. I appreciate when my mentors are honest with me, even about the tough subjects, and when they confidence in me.

Boisson: Be open-minded to new ideas that are brought to the table and understand that many younger professionals are working toward the same common goal. Simplifying processes make everyone’s life easier. Younger professionals are not out to take your job, they just want a seat at the table. Innovation and collaboration are the best ways to connect and support each other.

Malin: Young professionals prefer aspects of their career and personal life to be instantaneous. When hearing feedback and implementing changes, we want to rework something immediately versus a more seasoned professional who might wait for a review, debrief, or specific meeting.

We also bring different ideas and new thinking to the table. I think understanding and respecting the differences in approaches and opinions help bridge the working relationships between generations.

What has surprised you most about working in the association industry?

Question submitted by: Paul Pomerantz, CEO, American Society of Anesthesiologists

Billue: I am still surprised and amazed by the size of the association industry. It’s also very interesting how governance structures can be similar, yet so different.

Boisson: Acclimating into the association industry with a corporate background was a bit like operating in a different world. It takes time to adjust to the acronyms, structure, pace, and emphasis on membership.

Malin: There truly is an association for everything! I have had the pleasure of working alongside healthcare clinicians, engineers, financial and insurance event professionals, and manufacturing technicians. I think associations really help them excel in their jobs.

If there was one thing you would change about your own association or a typical association structure, what would it be? How would it help?

Question submitted by: Rob Paterkiewicz, CAE, MBA, IOM, Executive Director/CEO, Selected Independent Funeral Homes

Billue: I wish association staff members took better care of ourselves – both personally and professionally. Personally, this means learning from each other on how to improve our work-life balance and manage stress better. Professionally, it means sharing best practices about how to build and maintain relationships with members and how to manage members’ expectations.

Boisson: I would like to see associations emphasize an organizational development strategy, which would help develop their workforce. By offering more continuing education and other professional development opportunities, associations will help employees grow and evolve over time. .

There’s also a deficit in leveraging best practices among associations because each organization thinks it’s different from others. The reality is associations can benefit from practices other associations use to achieve successful outcomes.

Malin: Associations have a reputation for being slow to implement change. I think it’s the processes and protocols they have in place that sometimes hinder their speed in adopting new ideas. I understand why these processes and protocols are necessary, but I’ve also seen organizations that are truly innovative because they are nimble and committed to moving their organization forward.

What qualities do you think makes a leader well-suited for the association industry? What qualities do you have that make you a successful association professional?

Question submitted by: Mitch Dvorak, MS, CAE, Executive Director, International Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

Billue: Many leaders I’ve met have an excellent poker face, but they’re also super friendly. They have the ability to navigate difficult personalities in a calm and persistent way. These leaders I know who are fair and considerate are the same leaders that have a great relationship with their association board. In their tenure, they were able to successfully improve relations with an existing board or set necessary boundaries.

Because I have worked in a variety of roles in my association, I am growing as a leader. It has enabled me to understand how all the parts of the sum come together and how collaboration across departments helps us achieve our goals. I also have greater respect for my colleagues and their work.

Boisson: Initiatives are constantly changing in associations and having the ability to clearly articulate and manage through those changes will surely aid in any leader’s success. Additionally, it’s important to be transparent and build trust amongst staff members to ensure buy-in to the strategic plan.

My ability to adapt to any change and my patience have both aided in my success as an association professional.

Malin: In any industry, I think a leader is someone who challenges the status quo. You can’t keep doing things because they’re working—you have to ask yourself and others, “What can we do to make this even stronger?” Even if membership, financials, or attendance are in a great place, you should continue to raise the bar and not get comfortable. There’s always room for improvement. People will return to a place that provides new experiences and value that they cannot get anywhere else.

I try to implement the qualities I look for in a leader into my own work. Just because I have solid attendance at an event one year, doesn’t mean the next year will be the same. I want to be part of a team that’s raising the bar for the next greatest event—a team that competitors want to copy.

Which ‘old fashioned,’ ‘outdated’ attitudes or approaches most prevent you from bringing your best to the table?

Question submitted by: Kimberly Mosley, CAE, CPE, President, American Specialty Toy Retailing Association

Billue: I think some associations are hesitant to adopt a digital marketing strategy. As member demographics change, so should the strategy and offerings. We get so hung up in bureaucracy, we forget to be transformative and see “the forest from the trees.”

I also find outdated employee benefits to be off-putting. Personally, I am always so thankful when my employer allows me to recuperate after a hectic time (conference, board meetings, etc.). I can put more energy toward my work when I’m not worrying about essentials like my health and getting good rest.

Boisson: I like keeping up-to-date with technological advancements in the HR field. I think we can learn a lot from the corporate world about new systems that automate and streamline processes and make our jobs much easier.

Malin: I find folks who are resistant to change the most difficult to work alongside. Since I want to truly bring innovation to association events, it alters the amount of innovation I provide or suggest when working with those who are slow to change. When I encounter someone who is resistant to change, I try to limit my suggestions to a few new ideas versus many.

How do you see the association industry evolving in the next 10-20 years?

Question submitted by: Anonymous, CAE

Billue: I think we will see more personalized experiences and digital offerings for members. For employees, I think there will be a shift to remote work environments and relaxation from outdated office culture. I’m curious to see how automation and artificial intelligence will affect our industry, as well.

Boisson: Within the next 10-20 years, I see a lot of associations diverting from their dependency on membership dues and making a concerted effort to focus on building other streams of revenue. Some associations already have difficulty marketing to a younger demographic and will have to get creative in how they generate revenue.

Also, with all of the mergers and acquisitions that are taking place in today’s world, I wonder if we may begin to see this in the association industry.

Malin: I think association management professionals will have to set an even higher bar for engaging millennials. If we’re not seeing a return on investment (ROI) from the association, we are less likely to continue our membership. Association management professionals will need to come up with creative ways to maintain engagement and offer ROI to young, emerging professionals.

About the Author

Jen Creed is the director of talent development for SmithBucklin.

Related Articles


CEO Perspectives on Association Forum’s Governance Professional Practice Statments

Association Forum members have access to professional practice statements. A committee reviews these statements annually....

how did you find association industry

Work/Life: How Did You Find Your Way to the Association Industry?

Most of us are accidental association professionals. Find out how two women landed in this...

Old fashioned bronze key levitating over dark backgorund. Solution concept.

The Importance of Authenticity in New Power Leadership

Seasoned association executive Jim McNeil says that authenticity is the key to New Power Leadership.