Wondering where to even begin engaging young adult members? You’re in good company. That’s why NRECA and Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives is developing a program to help address the challenges.
The Young Adult Member Engagement Initiative has three goals:
- Promoting a co-op culture that embraces the opportunity to evolve with the industry and member expectations;
- Boosting engagement among young members, those ages 25 to 45; and
- Ensuring that electric co-ops develop a leadership pipeline that reflects the demographics of the communities they serve.
Over six months, NRECA spoke with some 60 cooperative stakeholders, including CEOs, communicators, and human resources professionals at distribution co-ops, G&Ts, and statewides. In addition, the association hosted six focus groups “to hear from consumer-members in this age group about what matters to them,” says Holly Wetzel, NRECA director of marketing and member communications. “We also talked with our partner organizations and folks from other cooperative trade associations to see how they are addressing some of these same challenges.”
That work paid off with several key takeaways, including the realization that co-ops’ values and community involvement resonates with young people.
“Our role as locally owned, community-driven civic institutions is appreciated and valued,” Wetzel says. “But we can’t take that advantage for granted. We have to tell our story in new ways.”
That means less about the lights coming on 80 years ago and more about “what we’re doing for them today and how we’re preparing for the future.” That’s important because, as the focus groups show, core co-op services are what matter most to young members.
“They value reliability and responsiveness,” Wetzel says. “They put a high value on honesty and transparency.”
In each focus group, young members were asked what products, services, and communication methods they would like from their co-ops.
“Many of the things that they mentioned were things that the cooperative was already doing, but they just didn’t know about them,” Wetzel says. “That tells me we don’t need a revolution to increase engagement. We need new strategies to talk about the things we do, the tools we have for members, and how we can make their lives easier.”
The messages, she says, need to be shared often and across multiple platforms. That includes social media, text messages, and emails, as well as one tried-and-true method: the monthly statewide magazine.
“Almost everything that these folks said they knew about their co-ops they said they learned from their magazine,” Wetzel notes.
Finally, whenever broadband was mentioned at a focus group, Wetzel says it was “a guaranteed way to perk up this group like no other topic.”
While it’s not for every co-op, Wetzel says the potential for some co-ops to bring broadband to their communities can be “a game-changer.” She notes that most people expressed dissatisfaction with their current internet provider.
“If we can fix this problem, we win big on the engagement front.”