Guidelines for Association Membership Onboarding Success

 In Association Management

Membership onboarding continues to be a hot topic with many associations. You drive hard to recruit new members. Therefore, you don’t want all of that time, work and money to go to waste by getting membership onboarding wrong.

The solution to association member retention begins with the onboarding process and delivering a positive onboarding experience for new members. Yet, onboarding statistics show that 88 percent of organizations don’t onboard well. To boot, most organizations only focus on week one of onboarding.

Membership onboarding programs need to start within the first 24 hours and have multiple touch points, throughout that first year. If a new member doesn’t feel welcome, you’re leaving yourself open to losing that member. The one you worked so hard to bring on board.

Other reasons why it’s important to have an effective onboarding strategy include to:

  • Ensure members don’t leave
  • Increase member retention and renewal rates
  • Improve member experience
  • Boost member engagement

Membership onboarding is a way of bringing a new member into the fold, through personal outreach. It needs to be an extension of your marketing program and next step in the communication cycle.

The first objective is to immediately communicate the member benefits. Think about this from a new member perspective. You paid for the membership. However, if you’re not getting information or communication immediately, you’ll ask yourself, “Why did I join?” The second is to stay in ongoing communication, throughout that first year of membership.

There’s no one size fits all approach and the process can be daunting, when it comes to membership onboarding. Each association needs to have a different approach, based on their goals, geography and membership offerings.

How often you get new members will depend on your personal outreach frequency. If you’re an association with limited resources, having an influx of new members joining at once will be a challenge. Although it’s a good problem to have, membership onboarding will be difficult to manage in that scenario.

Here are guidelines for association membership onboarding success:

Send a member welcome email

Membership marketing begins with sending an initial welcome email within 24 hours of a paid/approved membership. Send it to the primary new member and any additional contacts. Depending on how you’re set up, the email could be automatically generated as soon as a new member submits payment.

Due to an additional approval process requirement, some associations can’t use automated emails. In that case, once the new membership approval happens, send a welcome email within the same timeframe as the automated email.

Some associations that CMA manages have an online store, which automatically generates a welcome email with the receipt. Event Service Professionals Association (ESPA) is an example.

ESPA is the only association and voice representing event service professionals from CVBs, hotels and convention centers from across North America. When a new member comes on board, he/she receives a short welcome email. It includes a link to the new member concierge page.

This is a “Member’s Only” page that breaks out all of the benefits and is consistently updated. The page is an ideal place to see all of the member benefits, rather than just listing them out in an email. Additionally, because the link lives on the “Members Only” page, the new member has access to it all year long.

On top of the initial welcome email, send follow up emails so you show that there’s no lack of engagement. The emails need to go out one month and three months after the membership started. These are less formal and focused more on checking in to see if the new member has any questions about membership. Moreover, to remind him/her about the membership benefits.

Have a board member reach out

Whether a new member receives an autogenerated letter or manual one, you also should initiate personal outreach. New member onboarding ideas include having a board member or other member reach out. It’s ideal if that member is in same industry.

This is a good touchpoint because he/she can share what the membership offers, from an industry peer perspective. For example, if the new member is from a hotel, match he/she with another hotel board member.

The type of communication depends on the association membership make up. Another association that CMA manages is International Card Manufacturers Association (ICMA). It’s the leading global card association for card manufacturers and personalizers supported by suppliers and other industry participants. Since ICMA is an international group, the most effective way to reach out is through board members sending a personal email.

ESPA has U.S. based members, so board members have the option to email, call or do both. Leave it up to your members, to see which outreach they feel most comfortable.

Mail a member welcome kit

For associations that have a publication and/or conferences, consider sending a member welcome kit to your primary contact. Like the welcome email, follow the same timeframe to mail it.

Membership onboarding examples include an ICMA member welcome kit, which comprises:

  • Welcome letter
  • Framed certificate
  • Past three issues of CM magazine
  • Promotion for upcoming events that includes ICMA branding (“Save the Date” postcard and luggage tags)

Include a newsletter and/or magazine announcement

If you have a publication such as a newsletter and/or magazine, run new member announcements in them. This must be done in a timely fashion and on an ongoing basis. It’s a helpful way to give your membership a chance to learn about the new members.

In the announcement, include a brief background about the new member and its association. Most importantly, add contact information so members can reach out and begin building a relationship.

Engage on social media

Be sure to engage with new members on social media—especially if you have a tech savvy group. To start, always post an announcement welcoming the new member on your social media platforms.

When there’s been engagement from a new member on social media, find their handle and tag them. Ongoing monitoring and engagement with a new member shows that you’re on top of what’s being said. It also makes the new member feel like he/she is being heard.

Offer introductory discount rates

Everyone loves getting a discount! As part of your new member benefits and to give a glimpse into those benefits, offer introductory discount rates. Some ideas could be a discount to a conference or to attend a free webinar or other event. ESPA gives its new members two free educational webinars, when they join.

Include that information in the welcome email. This gesture sends the message: Here are the benefits. We’re giving you a chance to try them, before you give any more money at the moment. It’s also a great way to bring the benefits to life.

Make acknowledgements at an upcoming conference

If you have an upcoming conference, acknowledging new members is a wonderful introduction to your association. It also speaks volumes about how much you care about them. Don’t forget to add it your conference planning checklist!

Here are some more new member onboarding ideas at conferences:

  • Ribbon – Have a ribbon on the new member’s badge.
  • Newcomer reception – Hold an hourlong “invite only” meet and greet, which can include fun activities like ice breaker games. The invite makes the event feel exclusive and the member feel special. It also offers a chance for new members to meet other new members, as well as board and committee members.

The new member onboarding process is critical to the life blood of an association, yet it can be daunting. Many associations don’t have the time, talent or resources in house to handle it. For these reasons, all types of associations would benefit from outsourcing its association management.

There are association management companies (AMC) that offer member management and recruiting. In addition to leadership and governance, financial oversight and database management, AMCs can serve as an organization’s headquarters, provide daily operations and become the public face.

Select AMCs go a step beyond administrative functions. Some also offer marketing solutions. They encompass conference planning, branding, digital marketing, web and mobile app development, social media, public relations, advertising, collateral and publications.

Do you want to learn more about how to achieve membership onboarding success? Contact us today, to start the conversation.

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