by Jonathan Vatner | August 01, 2005

Heidi SalatiHeidi Salati was hired
to bring more young people
into the American Society
for Public Administration.

The Washington, D.C.-based American Society for Public Administration doesn’t get a lot of young faces at its meetings. Currently, only about 15 percent of ASPA’s members are under 40. There’s a strong contingent of students, but they aren’t necessarily spring chickens; many are middle managers aiming for advanced degrees.    The problem is, the association’s target demographic is the middle- to high-level manager in public administration, and until recently, younger people couldn’t benefit from the programming.
    A few years ago, the outgoing president realized if something wasn’t changed soon to bring in younger people, ASPA’s membership tally was going to drop. A wave of members was planning on retiring, and new prospects were looking slim. From 2001 to 2004, membership declined by nearly 10 percent, from 9,940 to 9,123. Heidi Salati, 37 years old, was hired in March to reverse that trend.
    “At a point when your membership comes to a certain age and retires, a lot of them will drop their association membership,” notes Salati, the association’s first senior director for professional development, who has been tasked with creating programs geared toward a younger audience. “By recruiting younger members who are new in the field, you’re going to keep those people for quite some time. They bring a lot of new fresh ideas as well, and help us keep our pulse on the industry.”
    Associations value young members but often do not understand how to plan a meeting that will attract and retain them. It’s not just about making them feel comfortable, either; it’s about understanding the needs of young professionals and taking action to meet those needs.
    “It takes a lot more work to integrate the X and Y generations and get them to see the value of the trade association,” says Richard Lerman, Cranbury, N.J.-based president of the New Jersey chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, based in Arlington, Va. “We are forced, therefore, to have world-class programs that our members must take the time to participate in.”

Richard Lerman

“It takes a lot more work
to integrate the X and Y generations&”
Richard Lerman,
Associated Builders and Contractors

Fresh blood

At ASPA’s annual conference, a new professionals’ workshop has been offered for a few years; at the next one, in Denver in April, Salati will add development courses for students going for various types of degrees, who hear about the conference mostly by word of mouth from their professors. Student courses will be focused into one day at the conference; the leadership at ASPA hopes to use feedback from the programming as a launchpad for future younger-slanted seminars.
    As to the topics to be offered, young professionals usually want the same things, she says, given her experience in similar roles at the Design-Build Institute of America and at the Brookings Institution, both based in Washington, D.C. “They always have questions about ‘What now?’ and ‘What can I expect in my field?’” Programming, therefore, will focus on career pathways in public administration. Salati also will plan outings that bring young professionals together with the experienced members for a sort of field trip, a setting that encourages mingling.
    ASPA isn’t alone in the need to address such issues. Rotary International faces a similar conundrum as it passes its 100th anniversary. Traditionally, only business owners and distinguished professionals have been permitted to join the service organization, part of the reason why only about one in five members is under 50.
    “Frankly, a lot of our members are dying off,” admits Sam Greene, the Westlake Village, Calif.-based chairman of the membership development and retention committee for the Evanston, Ill.-based association. For the past four years, he notes, Rotary International has put a premium on drawing younger members by designing special clubs and meetings just for them.