by Michele Lerner
You’ve recycled your leaders from the same pool for so long, you forget whose turn it is. Your board meetings don’t reflect the diversity of age, race, or gender of your general membership. You’ve developed the same stale strategic plan, with the same stale programs, every year. What you need are fresh ideas from young energized volunteer leaders.
Of course, not every REALTOR® under 35 has spectacularly innovative game-changing ideas for their association, but young members’ contributions are typically out of the norm and their enthusiasm is a powerful force, AEs say. And for many, the motivation to volunteer in the first place came from their association’s Young Professionals Network (YPN).
“I wouldn’t have become as involved in association leadership without the YPN,” says Jennifer Branchini, a REALTOR® in Pleasanton, Calif., and president-elect of her local association. “What’s important to me is that not only are YPNers being tapped on the shoulder for leadership positions, but we’re also valued for our opinions.”
Since 2006, more than 250 local and state YPNs have formed within REALTOR® associations, injecting new energy and providing a breeding ground for new board leadership. At the Leadership Summit held in Chicago this August, more than 150 YPN chairs attended, nearly 20 of whom were incoming, current, or immediate past presidents of their association.
“A YPN is a great leadership recruitment tool,” says Mike Valerino, marketing director of the Cleveland Area Board of REALTORS®, who taps his association’s YPNers to serve on committees. Likewise, Rozlynn Crew, director of engagement for the Houston Association of REALTORS®, says that after YPNers volunteer for her technology-focused group, they see the value of the association, participate more, join the leadership program, or run for a board position.
“The primary benefit of creating a YPN for a local or state association is to reach a demographic that had been disengaged before,” says NAR’s YPN manager, Rob Reuter, e-PRO®. “And once you reach them,” Reuter continues, “you’ll discover their fresh perspectives and their willingness to contribute.”
“This business has changed over the past 30 years, so we need to be open to new ideas,” says Monica Rodriguez, housing opportunity program manager of the California Association of REALTORS®. “Our YPN is a tremendous source of energy. Associations cannot be closed off. They need to be open to change because they can’t grow without it.”
Unfortunately, members set on preserving the status quo are often a significant hurdle to having an active and productive YPN. “There are plenty of real estate veterans who support YPN, but veterans who are averse to change are more reluctant to support the network,” says Reuter. And without support, the YPN becomes its own silo with no benefit to the organization as a whole. Buy-in from the “old guard,” or agents who have been in the business for 20 to 30 years, is essential to launching a successful YPN.
“Some older association members were a little bit resentful of the YPN at first,” says Branchini, “but the YPN identifies itself as part of the whole association. The focus is exploring new ideas. We’re inclusive, we encourage mentoring, and we want to show people the value of collaboration.”
To launch its YPN, the Chicago Association of REALTORS® brainstormed with potential YPN leaders, some of whom were already closely aligned with the association, about what would get them involved. “The group wanted to be more than purely social,” says Jessica Kern, the association’s marketing communications manager. “They wanted to build their business and their relationships with other REALTORS®.”
To garner opinions from a variety of business models, the Chicago Association of REALTORS®’ focus group included REALTORS® from large and small brokerages, as well as independent agents. Kern says picking “movers and shakers” is important, and notes that you can heighten their impact by having them make follow-up calls. She says inviting people through a newsletter may not be enough.
Luckily, the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® offers a comprehensive guide to launching a YPN, including requirements, tips, best practices, and even help from NAR’s Reuter.
Yet, launching a YPN and sustaining a YPN take different skill sets. AEs say their YPNs have faced hurdles, such as member desire to form a regional YPN, competition from ethnic or minority real estate forums, and the perception that YPN events are only for members under 40.
All YPNs open their events to all members, says Reuter. Although they may market them first to members under 40, the most successful groups promote their inclusiveness. YPN groups typically hold social networking events, charitable activities, RPAC fund raisers, and educational events of particular interest to younger REALTORS®, although all are welcome.
“The spirit of our YPN is to learn about the industry by interacting with others who can offer various viewpoints, and to give back to our communities,” says Matt Farrell, the first Chicago YPN chair and the 2013 Chicago association president-elect. “There is no age limit on the benefits of this.”
Download NAR’s YPN Start-Up Kit at REALTOR.org/YPN. Click “Start a Network.”