Jan 15 2013

Engaging Young Adults: Insights from Thrivent Financial


A few years ago, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans woke up to a new problem. On one hand, the organization had built itself into a high-performance Fortune 500 company, grown membership to more than 2.5 million people, consistently received (and still receives) many of the highest possible ratings in financial services, and distributed hundreds of millions of dollars to help strengthen communities around the world. On the other, membership was aging quickly and the Lutheran population in Thrivent’s core communities was declining. Thrivent would not be able to exist without new members, so these trends posed a long-term challenge. Thrivent needed to reach a younger audience.

This brief describes the efforts of Thrivent to engage young adults. It builds on Filene’s long history of examining credit unions’ own attempts to reach younger members, employees, and volunteers. Thrivent’s tactics vary, but here Ryan Anderson, a young Thrivent research fellow, and Christopher Kopka detail some of the most promising approaches:

  • Money Revolution. This on-campus program encourages students to not only learn about financial literacy themselves but also coach their peers. No selling allowed. Together everybody becomes more financially literate, and Thrivent bolsters its repuation among college students.
  • Adjunct teaching. In an effort to get close to upcoming talent, Thrivent supports a senior leader in teaching at a local university.
  • Internships and fellowships. Thrivent makes room for promising students to test the waters. Specifically, the company promotes a January internship in between terms that allows for students to engage at a time they would otherwise be idle.
  • Case study. In another effort to bolster awareness of Thrivent and its cooperative business model, the company supported a case study to be published and taught at business schools.

With $80 billion in assets under management, Thrivent’s balance sheet dwarfs those of even the largest credit unions. But as a fraternal organization (a close cooperative cousin), Thrivent shares many of the same business imperatives of member orientation, distributed governance, and social mission. This brief also proves that even a large sophisticated organization can fall prey to the demographic challenges facing credit unions of all sizes.

So while the scale may be different, many of the young adult takeaways are the same. 

Report Number 293