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New Member Onboarding (Part 1)

Written by Deirdre Reid on . Posted in Association, Association Best Practices

Friday, November 25, 2011 by Deirdre Reid
There’s a restaurant saying, “turn ‘em and burn ‘em.” Get customers in the seats and back out the doors as quickly as possible. Although turning tables helps the cash register, you risk alienating customers if they think you’re only interested in their money, not their dining experience.

I thought of “turn ‘em and burn em” recently when I read this in MGI’s Membership Marketing Benchmark Report: for every dollar spent on recruitment, associations spend only 27 cents on new member onboarding and engagement. Why is so little dedicated to new members, the ones most at risk for not renewing?

Do you know how it feels to be a new member? Think about the first time you joined a gym. Like new association members, you had membership expectations and goals. Membership would be good for you, but only if you made it part of your life.

Like successful gyms, we should make it easy for members to fit this new habit (membership) into their lives. If they see early results, they’ll be motivated to keep coming back.

Little tasks and touches

The main reason associations don’t have an effective new member onboarding program: time. We don’t have the time or volunteers to do it.

Here’s an idea: stop giving the membership committee so much to do. Split onboarding up into little pieces, for example, making one or two calls or manning the registration desk for 20 minutes. Push these opportunities out to your entire membership so they have a quick and easy way to contribute and meet others.

Retention starts with listening

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) knew that new members have good intentions, but they won’t read everything they send or be available for every “touch.” Their onboarding program delivers multiple touches through a variety of channels at key milestones: “Our new approach: a well thought-out coordinated plan to establish relationships with members, listen to what they need and then deliver on the promise. We moved from a product-centric to a member-centric approach.”

Listen to and learn about your members so you can help them achieve their membership goals. Starting with the application, request information about their career stage, reasons for joining, and professional interests and specialties.

A welcome touch

Learn even more about them with a welcome phone call, meeting or email survey. Ask about their educational needs, volunteer preferences (interests and preferred time commitment), social media habits, and communication and networking preferences.

Match volunteer greeters with new members like themselves: young professional with young professional, vendor with vendor. They should get the additional information you need, suggest ways to achieve membership goals and invite them to an upcoming event. 

At one of our local associations, a staffer met with each new vendor member to learn about their product or service, membership expectations (and their employer’s expectations), target market, participation preferences and any expertise they could share through writing, speaking or other volunteer activities. Since we offered company memberships, she also got the names of other employees so more ties to the association could be created.

If you can’t manage calls or meetings, send a welcome letter or email, but customize it according to what you learned in their application. Include a survey to collect additional information. Before sending, ask yourself, “If I were a new member, how would I feel getting this?” Does it pass muster?

Welcome kits, not door stops

Don’t rely solely on the welcome kit to orient your members. Some members read every page of it; others put it on the corner of their credenza to read later, and five months later they unearth it while cleaning.

Each welcome kit should only include the information that’s relevant to that member. Edit and customize kits based on what you learned in the application and welcome survey. An early career professional in a large city who wants to meet peers and mentors, needs education in topics A and B, reads blogs and hangs out on Facebook should receive different information than the mid-career professional in a rural town who joined to access research, wants to write about topics C and D and reads printed publications only.

Your kit can be on paper, a USB drive or a CD, whatever your members prefer, as long as you also put all the information on a new member landing page, so it’s accessible anytime anywhere. Create an RSS feed for this page so when new information is added, it’s pushed automatically to new member subscribers.

Stay tuned for Part 2 about orientation, new member resources and making all this work.

How does your association onboard new members? Do you have anything to add to these suggestions?

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who wishes all associations offered more ad-hoc volunteering opportunities.

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Deirdre Reid

Deirdre is a freelance writer, blogger and copywriter. The association community remains her professional home after spending ten years at national and state associations overseeing membership, vendor programs, marketing, publications, chapter relations and more. Away from her laptop, you can find her hiking, doing yoga, cooking new recipes, volunteering at the history museum, or relaxing in a comfy chair with a good book and glass of wine or craft beer.

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