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12 Ways to Make the Most Out of Your New Member Orientation

Author: Tatiana Morand
January 7, 2020
🕑 10 min read

As Estelle clicked to her next slide, she could feel the audience zoning out. It seemed like the new member orientation at her conservation club became more boring every year.

Of course, when Estelle had joined the club, there hadn’t been any orientation — boring or otherwise. She went to her first meeting, paid her membership dues, and received a contact list and meeting schedule, and that was it. Her first year had been confusing, and she missed out on some activities simply because she hadn’t known they were happening. The problems she experienced were part of what had motivated her to become the New Membership Chair.

But the orientation she was giving?

Only marginally better than nothing, Estelle thought. As she continued talking, she realized that everything she said was about the club: its history, rules, expectations. Nothing was about the new members, or spoke to their reasons for joining, or even answered their most common questions. No wonder they were bored!

So, if the goal of new member orientation was to welcome new members and increase member engagement, she needed to revamp the orientation process.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of clubs and member organizations in the same situation as Estelle.

They work hard at getting new members, and once they have them, they want to keep them. They know they need a member engagement strategy that should begin at orientation, but they’re slowed down by an orientation process that is unclear, boring, or even nonexistent.

A clear and engaging new member orientation starts your new members off right and begins the member engagement that will encourage them to become happy long-term members of your organization.

So, with that in mind, here are 12 ideas you can use to get new members engaged and interested from the get-go!

1. Communicate Expectations Clearly

To avoid “new member’s remorse”, confusion, and frustration, make sure you’re communicating clearly. Send a welcome email that explains next steps (more on that in a minute), and don’t assume they know how things work.

Don’t just tell new members they must attend orientation. Get into the details about how orientation works, where it is held, how long it will take, and what steps will follow. This clarity will help them feel confident and maintain their initial enthusiasm.

Something else to ask yourself is whether orientation is a requirement for participating in activities. In Estelle’s conservation club, new members had to complete orientation before they could go on the club’s hikes, in part because they needed to submit liability waivers.

She realized that she needed to make that clearer, so to help new members understand the process better, she added a new members section on the club’s website and created a new member tag in her contact database. That way she could lay out the entire process and send informational emails specific to new members.

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2. Send a Welcome Email

The first thing new members received from the club was a welcome email, but when Estelle reviewed the one she was sending, it sounded more like a receipt for membership dues. It wasn’t warm or interesting, and seemed to be written by a robot.

She reworked the message. First, she decided that instead of from “the club” it would be from her, in her role as New Membership Chair. That would give new members a real person to direct their questions to, and help them feel like they already knew someone before orientation.

Her new message had:

  • A personalized greeting
  • An exciting subject line
  • A warm message of welcome
  • A quick introduction to the club and its mission
  • An outline of the orientation process
  • A link to sign up for an orientation meeting
  • Directions to find the new member section of the club website

Once she implemented the new welcome email, Estelle found that more new members signed up for orientation without being reminded by phone, and arrived at orientation better informed.

3. Build a Welcome Kit

A welcome kit is a collection of materials that are useful for new members. It can include a club brochure, handbook, contact list, membership card, events calendar, and maybe even a little club swag, like a keychain or button.

To save new members from wondering, and yourself from answering the same questions over and over again, the welcome kit should also include information on membership fees and how to pay them, member obligations, conflict of interest issues, and how to join committees.

Read More: How to Create the Ultimate New Member Welcome Packet

4. Introduce the Organization

A natural learner and researcher, Estelle originally thought that no one would join an organization without knowing what that organization’s mission is.

But every time she conducted an orientation, she found out she was wrong.

People join organizations for all sorts of reasons, after all.

Maybe they saw a sign, they know about one thing you do, or a friend invited them to join… the list goes on. Not every new member will have scoured your website for details and read your mission statement, so if you assume they have, you may be missing out on an easy way to get them more involved.

Plus, new members may not connect what your mission is to what membership involves. So, provide your new members with an overview of your club’s mission, history, plans, goals and activities — and rather than just listing things the club does, emphasize how new members can get involved.

Estelle had a lot of information about the club in her orientation, but she needed to tie in member involvement. She added a “What Members Do” to each program she talked about in orientation. Now, instead of just saying, “We go on six hikes a year,” she could say, “Six times a year, our members go on conservation-focused hikes of local natural areas. Members research the areas, plan routes, manage logistics, and prepare field guides.”

5. Get to Know the New Members

Estelle was always finding out useful things about new members… halfway through the year.

After the club paid a consultant, Estelle would learn that someone was a stay-at-home parent who wanted to keep their grant writing skills sharp, and would have done it for free.

After she’d driven out to the edge of the county to post fliers, she’d learn that a new member worked at the library there.

She felt like she was always saying, I wish I’d known about that sooner!”

Has this happened to you too?

If you give your new members more chances to share information about themselves, such as through a member spotlight, it can happen less often. Give them opportunities to introduce themselves during orientation with icebreakers, partner activities, and group discussion. Getting to know your new members at your orientation makes them feel like they matter. It’s not fun to feel anonymous at a group event like orientation.

To do this, Estelle added a brief icebreaker to the beginning of her orientation session to start the new members off with a little conversation about themselves and their interest in the club.

The first time she did it, she felt kind of silly, but by the end of the icebreaker, she found that her new members included a retired naturalist, a kindergarten teacher, and a lot of experienced hikers. She planned her follow-up completely differently than she would have without this information.

6. Meet One-on-One

Estelle liked getting to know the new members so much that she added another element to the orientation process: a one-on-one chat. She invited new members to coffee within a month or two of their joining, so she could really get to know them. If there were more members than her schedule could handle, she enlisted the club president and secretary to take meetings, too.

A one-on-one meeting will allow you to learn a lot more about new members’ interests, skills, and motivations. This will help you positively shape their experience by suggesting next steps, activities, projects, or committees they may want to work on. This ensures that they’ll have a personalized, engaging experience as soon as possible.

7. Make Connections

Many people join organizations in part to meet others who share their interests. The social element is part of the appeal.

Help your new members get started right away by introducing them to other members, based on what you’ve learned about them in orientation. Whether it’s a shared enthusiasm for a program or even just having kids around the same age, help them connect with other members with whom they have something in common.

If it makes sense for your particular organization, you can also consider pairing new members with experienced ones in an informal mentoring capacity.

For example, Estelle decided to pair established members with new ones on their first hike with the club. The “trail mentor” was there to answer questions if the new member had them and check in on them throughout the hike. In addition to the social benefits, the club had significantly fewer cases of poison ivy when they implemented trail mentors.

Read More: Why Your Organization Needs an Online Member Directory

8. Mix It Up

One of Estelle’s biggest problems with her orientation was that it was essentially a monologue. She was the only person talking for an hour until it was time for members to fill out forms.

As she thought back to her orientation, she noticed that the “zoning out” seemed to start at the twenty-minute mark.

It’s hard for people to listen for extended periods of time without their minds wandering. So, avoid losing attention by changing up your activities. Add discussion, Q&A, and audiovisual material to keep the audience engaged.

Estelle restructured her orientation from an hour of lecturing to include:

  • An introductory group icebreaker
  • A short slideshow of photos for each program
  • An infographic about the mission, history, and membership instead of a slide of only words
  • A brief interview with an established member
  • Short Q&A Sessions after each section, instead of a big one at the end

After the first time she ran it, she found that there was a lot less zoning out and a lot more questions — meaning that new members were leaving with a much better first impression of the club and a lot more information.

9. Be Efficient

New members are forming an impression of what being in your club is like. Don’t let “boring,” “time-wasting,” or “could have been an email,” be what they settle on.

Run your orientation efficiently, by removing tedious activities. Consider if forms can be submitted online beforehand, rather than filled out and turned in at the meeting. Print name tags ahead of time, and place orientation materials at each spot instead of taking time to pass everything out. Keep an eye on the clock throughout.

Think critically about what you include in your orientation session. In most cases, if you’re going over an hour, it’s worth considering if you can cut some material.

10. Ask for Feedback

The people who attend your orientation will know things you don’t, like:

  • If anything was confusing
  • What they were still wondering when it was over
  • What they particularly enjoyed

After the orientation session is over, send a survey or other invitation for attendees to provide feedback. This will help you continue to improve your orientation and shows new members that you value their input.

11. Involve Your Community

Welcoming new members is everyone’s responsibility. Bring your community into the orientation process by inviting existing members to share their experiences, help run orientation sessions, or even training them to deliver the orientation.

Estelle asked a few established volunteers to rotate as “guest speakers” at her orientation sessions. They told new members about their favorite parts of being a member, what they had learned from club activities, and their advice for new folks.

12. Remember New Members Throughout the Year

Your new member orientation is not just one meeting: it’s really a process that lasts through the first year of membership.

So, you need to be in welcome-mode that entire time to ensure they don’t miss any opportunities to participate. As you move through the calendar, remember that each season brings new information for your members. Check in to explain what’s coming up and how they can be involved.

Estelle found her “New Member” tag in her membership management software very handy throughout the year. She sent targeted communications to new members explaining things like volunteer opportunities, the annual birdhouse competition, seedling sale fundraiser, and club trip. She thought back to what had confused her as a new member, and preemptively explained the ins and outs of club activities.

Read More:13 Membership Certificate Templates for Any Occasion (Free Download)

Member Retention Starts Immediately

About a year after she changed her orientation process, the club president stopped Estelle after a meeting.

“Where are you finding these new members?” she demanded. “They’re amazing!”

She went on to talk about how engaged the new members were, how many were already volunteering for committees, and how knowledgeable they seemed.

“We’re getting such fantastic people!” she cheered, “Great work!”

Estelle had started out simply wanting a new member orientation that didn’t put anyone (including her!) to sleep. But she found that her new orientation process had a much greater significance.

New members were more quickly integrated into the club community, were more active, and less likely to drift away. They were getting what they really wanted out of the club, and consequently, were giving more of their time and energy. The orientation process had started them on the right track, and Estelle’s follow-up had kept them engaged.

But she didn’t say that.

“Yes,” she agreed. “Our new members are great. They’ve been like that since orientation!”

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

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