The Thin Gray Line?

With more salt than pepper in my hair these days, my views on a lot of things have changed.

It used to be funny when I received invitations to join AARP when I was in my 30’s. Now it hardly seems humorous, especially when I have to put on glasses to read them.

Age is discussed often in Trout Unlimited (TU). In general, the organization’s demographics are skewed toward guys of my ethnicity and my age range. There are some exceptions in local chapters, but TU has recognized the shift in demographics in the United States and has determined to stay viable by working to encourage diversity in its membership ranks.

The reasons of course are practical. By the latest US Census, my age bracket only makes up 13% of the overall population. I am a baby boomer, born at the tail end of the boom. We tend to be “joiners” – affiliated with organizations that espouse causes we are passionate about. We are told that younger generations like GenX’ers and Millennials tend to be less inclined to be “joiners” . This has caused some concern for TU leaders at all levels.

Of course it is important to train new leaders to step in to ensure the mission of our organization (TU in this instance) continues.

I have participated in conversations at the local and national level on this topic. A good bit of hand-wringing occurs in these discussions. A recent blog post even talked about the demise of TU as a result of being perceived (rightly or wrongly) as an old guy’s club.

I think there are a few reasons for this. Many of us who do fit the description are in a life stage that may allow us more free time than it did when we were busy with school, raising families, building businesses, etc.. It may also afford us a bit more money to spend on our hobbies and passions. A third reason that may come into play is that as we age we become more conscious of the desire to leave a legacy of good.

Whatever the reasons, I do believe the efforts to recruit a more diverse membership relative to ethnicity, gender and age is important. However I don’t think that TU will crumble because of the current demographic lean. I suspect that in TU’s five decades of existence we have always had a similar demographic, and the organization has continued to grow.

I do think that the hybrid vigor that comes from a diverse organization will make TU stronger, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the age demographic hovers about where it is because of some of the s points I made above on the stages of life.  I do not believe that sounds a death knell for the organization.

TU should continue on its path of encouraging and increasing diversity. But the doom and gloom about age demographics is a concern that will take care of itself. I believe people exposed to TU in their younger years will come back to the organization when life allows them the luxury of more “free” time – as they have now for almost fifty years.

So stand firm boomers, and don’t fret. Help is coming.

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