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How Are You Welcoming New Members?

Lori Halley 07 August 2014 6 comments

If your association’s or club’s key priorities are increasing membership and improving engagement you’re not alone. Recent research by Marketing General Inc. and our own Small Membership Survey confirm that associations – both large and small – are focusing on member recruitment and engagement.

So it stands to reason that when you are successful in recruiting new members, you'll work hard to ensure they become engaged, active participants as soon as possible – right? So how are you welcoming new members on board?

Onboarding new members

In one of our recent Small Membership Advisory Community calls, we asked the participants from associations and clubs about their process for onboarding new members. In response we heard a sound you likely hear a lot when asking for volunteers: crickets. We wondered if the lack of response was because the term “onboarding” was unfamiliar.

The Collins Dictionary describes “onboarding” as:

  1. the induction and assimilation of a new employee into a company or organization
  2. the management of the early stages of a relationship between a business and a customer
While a new member, like an employee, needs to have an orientation to your organization, it is really more about welcoming them and helping them understand what their membership is all about. It's definitely about starting to build a relationship. But the Wikipedia definition comes a little closer, suggesting that onboarding is a process of “organizational socialization.” You are essentially welcoming your new recruit into a new membership community. 

Check out these tips on how to change your welcome email to make every new member happy.

Email “most commonly used communication method”

One of our Advisory Community members did tell us that his organization's new member welcome includes sending “an automated email [generated by their Wild Apricot system] that describes the basics of what goes on in the club.” The 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report confirms that “an email welcome remains the most commonly used communication method to onboard or engage new members (71%).”

Yet while it’s important to ensure a confirmation and welcome email goes out as soon as members sign up, these may not be enough to convince your new member to actively engage in your association or club. I
n a blog post on Mktg4Associations, Lori Woehrle noted that many new members often delete your welcome emails without reading them! So what about trying a more personal, dare I say “old school” approach – a phone call?

“You had me at hello.”

The Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report also noted “that fewer associations are using “volunteer or staff welcome phone calls” and/or “mailed welcome kits,” yet those who report using these methods are significantly more likely to report having a renewal rate at 80% or higher.” This was also the case for one of our Advisory Community members who found that offering personal phone calls really made the difference. Their organization had existing members assigned to call a group of members the week after each event "just to check in with them, see what their experience was."  She noted that "it’s the personal touch we’re going with right now to rekindle our membership and get it back up to where it was two years ago.”

Lori Woehrle also noted that phone outreach was effective for her association. Woehrle notes, “when we reach our key contact, the conversation goes well. They are delighted to learn of the partnership, discover that they are now members of our organization, and are eager to avail themselves of our resources.” Her organization also offers “45-minute webinars on “How to Make the Most of Your Membership” as a follow-up to the calls.

What methods are associations using for member onboarding?

The 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report also reminds us that “increasing member engagement begins with the process of onboarding the new member." Here are the top onboarding methods identified by their survey findings:

Top 5 Communications Methods for Onboarding New Members:

  1. Email welcome - 71%
  2. Mailed Welcome kit - 55%
  3. Members-only website - 49%
  4. Membership card or certificate - 44%
  5. Volunteer or staff welcome phone call - 26%

You don't need a “Walmart greeter”

The bottom line is that you need to have a welcoming (onboarding) process in place – whether it includes an email and a call, followed by a mailed welcome package or an online webinar. But it's also about creating a welcoming community. And it should be personalized. I’m not suggesting you need to assign membership greeters like they have at Walmart. But perhaps you can put a buddy system or mentorship program in place so that your more active members or volunteers can reach out to and connect with the newbies – show them the ropes and explain and offer personal examples of how they’ve benefited from being active members – what’s in it for them.

Are you welcoming newcomers at your events?

When we talk about community, we often think automatically about our online community or website. And of course, creating a new member forum or community on your site may be really effective. But if your association, club or nonprofit holds meetings and events, these can be a prime opportunity to forge meaningful connections both with and among your members. So it's really important to give some thought to making all members feel welcome at meetings and events, especially new members.

The first step is to invite new members to attend your upcoming event. Onboarding activities at the event might include“first-timer orientations” or “meet-n-greet” sessions with the board or membership committee. It can be as simple as ensuring you offer name tags that identify new members and board members for easy connections.

What has been the key to your new member onboarding program's success?  

Image source:  Red carpet unroling - courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Thursday, 07 August 2014 at 8:30 AM


  • Laura Occhipinti said:

    Sunday, 10 August 2014 at 4:12 PM
    We send a personal greeting via email to each new Member. The greetings are individually sent (not automated) and we make sure they know who they can contact if they have an immediate questions. The same person who sends the welcome emails is also at many of our events so hopefully they feel as though they "know" at least one person before coming out.
  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Sunday, 10 August 2014 at 7:04 PM
    Thanks for sharing Laura. I think the personal touch goes a long way in welcoming new members.
  • Megan Keane said:

    Tuesday, 12 August 2014 at 6:46 PM
    At NTEN, we have a monthly new member call that welcomes folks and lets them know about their member benefits and NTEN resources. But most importantly, it gives them a chance to talk about their work, ask us questions, and connect with others on the call. I really like that your post also pointed out the "old school" ways of welcoming that are still really important. I'd love to hear more about other creative ways organizations are welcoming new members.
  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Wednesday, 13 August 2014 at 9:11 AM
    Megan: Thank so much for telling us how NTEN welcomes new members. Our Small Membership Survey confirms that the most effective member engagement methods include outreach - from the board, volunteers or staff. So even though email is the most common channel, personal interaction still rules.
  • Lori Baldauf, WCRA said:

    Tuesday, 19 August 2014 at 12:49 PM
    For our annual conventions, we present a "gift" to all new members -- an association-logo coffee cup, of course filled with treats ! We hope that the coffee cups will be used in their office and will remind them of their valued membership throughout the year. In addition, we "snail mail" a welcome letter to all new members, thanking them for understanding the importance of membership as well as passing along helpful contact information and supportive links.
  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Tuesday, 19 August 2014 at 1:56 PM
    Lori - thanks for sharing WCRA's welcome package and process. You're right, the mug (and treats) are welcomed and offer a visible reminder of your organization. And "snail mail" letters are great because they can be personalized and particularly effective if they include a personal note from your Board Chair or another active member volunteer.
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