In an attempt to increase the retention of first-year members, a new member onboarding plan has become a necessity for many associations. There’s definitely room for improvement since the average new member retention rate is 65% for individual membership organizations and 84% for trade associations, according to the 2019 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report from Marketing General Incorporated (MGI).
For associations with individual membership, that means one in three new members won’t renew unless you find a way for membership to make a bigger impact on them during that critical first year.
Traditional onboarding tactics aren’t doing the job yet many associations continue to rely on them. 75% of associations send a welcome email to new members, that’s good, but none of the other four most popular tactics is especially noteworthy.
• Sending a membership card or certificate. (Yawn.)
• Mailing a welcome kit. (Oof, that’s heavy!)
• Asking the new member to create a membership profile. (And then what?)
• Inviting them to use the members-only section of the website. (But not leading them to the most relevant resources?)
The goals of a new member onboarding program
A new member onboarding program must achieve these goals:
• Educate the new member about the many ways to get value from their membership, such as education, information, networking, and volunteering.
• Help your association develop a relationship with the new member and establish an open channel for communication.
• Assist your association in learning about the new member and their interests, needs, and goals.
Will a welcome email, membership card, and welcome kit really help a new member navigate your association? Will they help your association learn more about the new member? Will they convince the new member to take action of some sort?
A new way to onboard new members
Traditional onboarding tactics—a welcome packet or link to the members-only section of your website—lead to information overload. And then what’s likely to happen? The new member takes a quick glance at the welcome packet and sets it aside on her desk, but later she moves it to a drawer, and it’s never seen again.
A better option is using your learning management system (LMS) to guide the new member through an onboarding experience that’s tailored to her interests. Instead of throwing all the information at her at once, break it down into short videos or snippets of information that are sent to her over time. Turn onboarding into a microlearning experience.
Bites of onboarding content spaced out over time are easier to digest and retain. Plus, if you use your LMS to deliver this content, you can track what the new member is doing, for example, which modules they choose and which they decide to skip. This helps you learn about their needs and interests, and point out any relevant topics they might have missed.
You can set up learning paths for different types of members, for example:
• Supplier members vs. practitioner members
• Early-career vs. late career members
• Members in areas with chapters vs. those in areas without chapters
Why didn’t you think of this before? Membership teams are usually focused on putting the AMS or CRM to work. You may not even have access to your association’s LMS. Ideally, you can work with the education team to get access to the LMS—and the LMS is integrated with your AMS or CRM.
Using your LMS for new member onboarding
New member onboarding should ideally last 7 to 12 months, according to Amanda Kaiser, founder of Kaiser Insights LLC, who partnered with Dynamic Benchmarking to produce the New Member Engagement Study, a great resource for designing new member onboarding programs.
During the first year of membership, you must have regular communication with the new member. Slowly introduce them to relevant benefits. Think of onboarding as a self-paced online course in Association Membership 101. You’ll have different courses or roadmaps for different types of members.
An onboarding program requires content development. You’ll have to create things to read, videos to watch, assessment tools, and a handy glossary of association lingo and the differences between association events. You can set up automated notifications to remind new members about this week’s or this month’s new topic.
Teach new members about your website resources, subscription options, career center, and ways to meet other members. Some of this instruction can happen in video interviews with members from all segments of membership, for example, by specialty, position, career stage, and membership type.
One of the goals of onboarding is to learn more about the new member. Yes, ask them to complete a new member profile, but don’t stop there. Steal an idea from traditional online courses: ask them to do a self-assessment too. Find out about their membership goals, challenges, interest in volunteering, and topics of interest. Use that data in future emails to make suggestions on resources that might interest them.
Rethink your approach to new members
Keep in mind one of Amanda’s rules: in the first few months of membership, don’t ask a new member to buy anything. They just handed over a hefty amount of cash for their membership dues, so it’s not a good time to ask them to spend more money. This rule does require coordination with (and compliance by) other departments.
Focus on your association’s free resources, such as your online community, webinar or session recordings, virtual roundtables, newsletters, and website resources. But don’t give out gifts, says Amanda. “Top performers are more likely to give discounted or free conference registration, a discount on an educational product, a bookstore discount, a free research report or guidebook. Sampling is a frictionless way to get new members to try the association’s benefits and experience the value.”
New members join to expand their network, so help them do that. Add a discussion forum to your new member “course.” Just like a regular online course, “students” (new members) and “instructors” (veteran members) can use this forum to share tips, ask questions, and connect with each other.
Invite new members to a quarterly webcast where they can learn from veteran members and meet fellow new members of the class of fall 2019. One of the most valuable benefits of membership is the sense of community and belonging it can provide. This is more important than ever as research has revealed that nearly 50% of adults report feeling lonely. Help new members meet their peers and find possible mentors.
Who are these veteran members we keep referring to? They’re volunteers—membership ambassadors. This volunteering duty does not require much time—it’s an example of microvolunteering. They act like coaches, checking in with one or two new members every few months, and making a guest appearance every now and then in a discussion forum or webcast. They learn about the new member, answer questions, and suggest next steps.
Using your LMS for new member onboarding has a bonus benefit for your association. The new member becomes comfortable using the LMS, and starts noticing all the options for professional development—courses, courses, webinars, and certificate programs. When they’re ready to further their education, where do you think they’ll turn? If you’ve provided a valuable new member onboarding experience, they’re sticking with you.