Why Most Organizations Get New Member Onboarding Wrong — and 3 Ways to Do It Right

Membership June 04, 2019

Artie Shlykov

By Artie Shlykov

This is a guest blog post from Amanda Kaiser, the presenter of our free webinar, "3 New Strategies to Boost Your Member Onboarding, Engagement, and Retention." Click the link to register for our webinar.


Last year I was talking to a colleague, and she recommended a particular national professional association. This group sounded like it could help me with some of my professional goals, so I joined.

Right off the bat, I ran into a few issues.  

The online membership application process didn’t allow me to set my username and password, so right after I joined I couldn’t login and check out my new member benefits. By the time the email with my login credentials came in, I was off doing other things and did not have time to learn more about the association.  

I was only reminded of the association when a promotional email came in, asking me to attend their national conference. Surprised by the high price of registration and my estimated travel cost, I pressed delete.

A month or so later, I had a meeting with that same colleague, and a chance comment of hers reminded me of the association.  

I had a half hour before my next meeting, and I spent the time browsing the association’s website looking at their events, research reports, and online community. It was interesting, but I didn’t find anything immediately applicable.  

So, I logged out and mostly forgot about the association.  

Every once in a while, a promotional email would plop into my inbox.  

I’d usually delete it without too much thought.  

And every two months or so, a magazine would arrive. I’d flip through it between other, more important tasks.  

Then I noticed an email that said, “Time to renew!”.

I clicked on the link because it felt too soon, and sure enough, there were 3 more months until my renewal date. I backed out of the site feeling mildly irritated that the association was trying to shake more money out of me since I didn’t feel like I had gotten my money’s worth during the first nine months of membership.

Worst of all: after that first renewal email, the floodgates opened.

During the next three months I must have received a dozen emails from the association. Most were gentle reminders, but a few were slightly threatening: “Renew now or you won’t receive all these great benefits!” In contrast, some were almost tearful: “We will miss you when you’re gone!”  

As you can probably imagine, neither inspired me to renew. Once my year’s subscription was up, I didn’t give the association a second thought.

But this begs the question: what is your organization doing differently?


My first year member experience lines up with many other new member’s experiences according to member research.  

Associations tend to have very robust renewal programs, but meager new member onboarding programs.    

But this is a shame, since turning the membership funnel upside down is a big opportunity for many organizations to increase their member retention rates.  

That’s because new member onboarding programs raise new member renewal rates by nearly 10% on average, according to the New Member Engagement Study.  

And for some associations, this skyrockets as high as 50%.

New member onboarding programs work, and they work because they bridge the gap between the membership benefits and each member’s problems.  

Left on their own, new members flounder around and eventually start ignoring the association because they don’t understand how the organization can help them.  

New member onboarding programs methodically show each new member exactly how the organization can help them. By the time the end of the year comes around members enthusiastically renew — the complete opposite of my experience with the professional association.

However, you might be wondering: what is a new member onboarding program, and what do the best ones have in common?  


If you want to learn how to create a stellar new member onboarding program, please join my webinar on June 24th... or read on!

Three Ways to Make Your New Member Onboarding Program the Best It Can Be

A new member onboarding program is a structured plan for communicating with new members consistently and frequently during the first year of membership with the goal of engaging each new member.  


If you’re hoping to implement a member onboarding program in your organization – or if you already have one and want to revamp it – here are the three things I’ve seen very successful organizations do.  

1. Start ASAP.

Organizations have a three-day to three-week window of opportunity to first engage each new member.  

That’s because new members want to know as soon as possible how the organization can help them, what the value is, and most importantly, they want to confirm they did not make a mistake in joining.  

How do you do this?  

Think about providing small packets of value.  

For example, if new members are also new professionals, perhaps send them a short article about how to impress their manager during the first few weeks on the job. Short articles, videos, and other helpful pieces of content provide frictionless ways for new members to engage and get a sense of what membership can offer them.  

So, if you can provide value right away, that member is on their way to engagement.  

Fail to do so, and they’re on their way to ignoring you instead.


Read More: 3 Ways a Welcome Package Can Affect Your Donor Relationships

2. Plan it Out.

Written, scripted, and calendarized plans have higher success rates.  

How many emails will new members get? When will they get them? What will each message say? Will someone call each new member too? The most successful new member engagement plans include lots and lots of details.  

Some of the most successful plans I’ve seen email new members three times in the first week of membership. Organizations that can even call new members. Some organizations send new member packets, videos, or invite new members to monthly orientation webinars.

Read More: Welcome New Members Right with These 9 Email Tips (+Template)

However, that’s not to say these plans are rigid… which brings us to #3:

3. Change Is Good.

New member onboarding programs should perform better each year.  


Because program managers measure the success of each message and recreate the ones that perform poorly.  

Often programs are reviewed twice a year to ensure messages and channels are working. Toss out underperforming tactics and test something new in its place.  

Testing out different strategies, such as a different email cadence or sending out various types of content, can show you which one has a higher return rate, and which one keeps new members coming back for more.

Wondering how to implement a new member onboarding program in your organization? Please join WildApricot and I as we explore these unsung heroes of member engagement Monday, June 24, 2019, at 2 PM Eastern/11 AM Pacific.  

Amanda Kaiser is a member engagement specialist for the professional and trade association industry. She has conducted over 385 in-depth member interviews and counting. Through these conversations, she has come to understand members’ goals, challenges, and worries then translates these insights into strategies that improve member engagement. Amanda writes a weekly blog about member engagement at SmoothThePath.net.  

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Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.


  • Jason:
    Great read and very timely for me. At Society for Nonprofits, we just recently started a program where we call each new member to welcome them. I'm looking forward to seeing how it affects user engagement and member retention.
  • Tatiana Morand

    Tatiana Morand:
    Hey Jason, that's great to hear! I'm glad this post came in handy for you and I hope your new program goes well.
  • Sara:
    I would like to "Read More: Welcome New Members Right with These 9 Email Tips (+Template)" but I don't see the link. Can you repost it?
  • Tatiana Morand

    Tatiana Morand:
    Hi Sara, sorry about that! I've added the link to the post, and you can also find it here: https://www.wildapricot.com/blogs/newsblog/2018/03/02/welcome-new-members-email

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