Updated: June 2, 2022
I recently had a conversation with an association client who was struggling to get board members to commit to a solid membership onboarding strategy in relation to a new pricing model. This included a lot of talk around the right timing for communication, where to communicate, how often, etc. There were questions being asked and assumptions being made that I’ve heard from other associations as well, so I thought I’d share some insight into the importance of new member onboarding for associations.
Understanding the importance of a new member onboarding program can help your association move from a run-of-the-mill organization that your regulars know about to an organization that people are talking about and actively recruiting for because they feel the commitment you bring to the table. A solid membership onboard process also ensures your staff is on the same page and is supported in their recruitment efforts.
It’s not about you, it’s about your members
You, your board, your team—they all know about your association and what you do. And to all of you, it’s easy to talk about your organization and why you love it so much. You already know the meaning of all the acronyms, where to go to connect with others, who to turn to if you have an issue with your membership, etc.
Your members do not readily have this information and potential members surely don’t either.
As with any communication strategy, it’s not about you or your board, it’s about figuring out what your members want, when they want it, how often and where. For instance, it doesn’t matter if your board is not using Facebook or Instagram—if your members are using it, then your association needs to use it. That goes for any communication channel—if you are actively trying to recruit and engage a younger generation of members, use the channels they go to for information. Yes, this means you may need to get comfortable with Snapchat or TikTok.
Think strategically about how you are crafting your messaging, where and when it’s being received. Approach communication with new members just as you would with new team members — start with the basics, ensure they understand key elements of your organization and make it easy for questions to be asked (and answered) in a timely way.
The HR and honeymoon analogies: We like to be wooed
In short, think about onboarding from an HR perspective: when we bring on new employees, there is an orientation process. They only know so much about your organization that they’ve probably researched or gleaned through the interview process. If there is not a set, solidified orientation process (many meetings with key individuals in the company, training on how to do certain things, review of the employee handbook and procedures, etc.) then your employees get frustrated and start to disengage right away. You lose them a lot faster than you lose employees who you have time to adequately orient and train.
Your new members are the exact same.
Same scenario, different analogy: When you’re in the honeymoon phase with a significant other, they can do no wrong. You’re super jazzed about the relationship and you’re always talking about him/her and making time for them. Think about your membership that way. When they first join, they’re excited about it—they did so for some reason and in the beginning, they’re likely going to do what they can to take advantage of the membership and tell others about this *new* organization they joined. But that will fade quickly if you don’t reciprocate or make them feel special. The relationship will fade.
Ideas for association membership onboarding
Everyone, at all ages, wants to be heard and acknowledged. So how do we make these relationships last? Taking the time to call out new members when they join your association can be as simple as a personalized phone call or mail piece. In addition, your staff knows the ins and outs of your members — they types of questions they are asked, the frustrations, the accolades. Get together with key members of your team to talk through ideas that can be easily streamlined for staff and make your members feel great about being a part of your organization.
To get you started, here are five suggestions for how to onboard new association members:
- Personal phone calls: Ask your association president, committee chair, membership director, etc. to make a personal phone call to new members once a month
- New member packets: New member packets are a must. And, as much as we want to save paper by doing things such as email welcome letters (which are great as well) and PDF downloads, you will stand out more (and people will save your information) if you send them something in the mail. Provide them with key contact information, upcoming event dates, a fun swag item and a reminder of all the great things they get because they are a member. Approach new membership communication through omni-channel strategies. Combine digital and traditional efforts so no one is missed.
- Coordinate new member events: New members could be intimidated by events at first, especially if they think they’re one of the few new people there. By introducing new members to one another first, it builds a level of comfort between them that can give them the confidence to attend future events with your entire membership. Think about your first day somewhere new whether it was a job, school or a new team. What helped make that first day fun, exciting or less stressful? Use those ideas to map out how to help engage new members at events built just for them.
- Plan for multiple touches: In the first three months of membership, have a plan for the tools you’ll use and the type of ongoing outreach you’ll make with new members. It might be a monthly email, a personal phone call, the new member packet and maybe a shout-out in your LinkedIn group. Whatever it is, have a plan for ongoing communication in those initial months.
- Follow-up at the half-way point: With new employees, I have a 3-month, 6-month and 12-month touchbase/review with them as they are working their way through the first year at our agency. You may have something similar with your staff and team members. Using that HR approach, this same process can be modified for new members. Check in with them to see how things are going, if they have questions and what they are loving (or not-so-much loving) about their membership. Get creative on those check-in points. They don’t always have to be through email or phone calls. You could send a personalized video or a fun swag gift at their 6-month ‘anniversary’ mark in the mail.
From one member to another
We can all think of great organizations that we have joined and not-so-great ones that maybe we thought were going to be a good fit and turned out otherwise. Personally, there have been many organizations that have left a bad taste in my mouth and I have no interest in joining because of their new member process (or lack thereof). It’s not entirely about what happens after you join—it’s the relationship that can be developed leading up to making that final decision to join.
There have been organizations that I have followed and reached out to either via email or social media before even becoming a member to get more information, ask questions, etc. and the same ones that I refuse to join are the ones that aren’t monitoring those accounts or do not get back to me. Or, the emails bounce. Or, they send me on the run-around to get information rather than just being one who can disseminate it properly for me.
The point: New membership onboarding and engagement before, during and after the relationships have been established with your members is key to sustaining your association. Don’t let those that have been long-standing members shadow what potential members may be looking for. Personal outreach is something we all want at all levels. This is how you can move your association from “meh” to “wow!”