May 14, 2019

6 Ways to Onboard & Engage New Members

6 Ways to Onboard & Engage New Members

A new member joins your association with high expectations. These expectations have been shaped by the experiences they’ve had elsewhere online. They expect you to help them figure out:

  • How to fit your association into their life.
  • How to quickly find what they need to achieve their goals.
  • How to get the most membership value as soon as possible.

They also expect something different from you: a more personal and knowing relationship and membership experience. After all, your association is not just another brand with a good product or service, you’re their professional community.

Last week, we discussed the differences between the traditional and modern approaches to new member onboarding, and described the elements of a new member onboarding campaign. Now, let’s take a look at some other ways you can help a new member get acquainted with your association and take advantage of membership benefits.

A Multi-Prong Approach to New Member Onboarding

Jane Nassiri, director of customer success at MemberSuite, recently told Associations Now that a multi-pronged strategy works best for new member onboarding because members have different preferences for engagement. You can ensure your new member onboarding programs appeal to all members by offering a mix of face-to-face and digital experiences.

#1. New Member Orientation

Sometimes, old practices do make sense—as long as you update them. For example, a new member orientation, done well, helps new members find their way and make new friends at the same time.

An in-person new member orientation serves two purposes: social and informative. Members join your association to meet other members so give them as many opportunities to do that as soon as possible. But, beware the scourge of many an orientation: the boring PowerPoint explaining each department’s bullet points.

Instead, focus on new member needs and interests. Send attendees a pre-session poll to learn about their membership goals so you can tailor your presentation to those goals. Don’t introduce every single benefit. New members don’t care. Instead, show them how to find what they need.

Invite a diverse mix of veteran members who can talk about how they got involved in the association and how they’ve benefitted from membership. Stories are more memorable than bullet points.

Most members can’t attend in-person events, so offer quarterly orientation webinars or webcasts on a platform like Zoom where people can see each other, ask questions, and chat among themselves. Give new members the option of using audio only in case they’re having a bad hair day. Post the recording in the new member section of your website and on your member portal.

#2. Member Portal Resources for New Members

According to the 2018 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report from Marketing General Incorporated (MGI), associations with retention rates at or above 80 percent are significantly more likely to invite new members to use their members-only website or portal. Make this a priority for your new member onboarding campaign.

Create a New Members section on your website that can be reached from your member portal. You may even want to create a page within that section for each member persona, for example, associate (vendor) members, young professionals, C-suite aspirants, and solo practitioners. The new member pages for each of these groups could link to relevant website resources, newsletters, educational programs, and discussion groups.

While you have the new member’s attention, ask them to answer a poll about their top challenge. List a few challenges as suggested answers but also provide a text box for “Other.” Their answers can guide content for future onboarding emails.

#3. Social Media Engagement

“A lot of people are on social media these days,” said Jane. “Whether it’s a Facebook page, a Twitter account, or LinkedIn, you can reach out by tagging new members in a post.” In these social updates, link also to the New Member page on your website, or suggest a Facebook page/group, Twitter list, or LinkedIn group they may find useful.

#4. Collaboration Platforms

If many of your members use collaboration platforms, like Trello or Slack, create a board or channel for new members. The same Associations Now article mentioned a Trello kanban board created by the Iowa Lean Consortium—“an interactive list that helps new members get oriented in a variety of benefits and services.”

#5. Membership Ambassadors

Membership ambassadors add a personal touch to new member onboarding. Ask ambassadors to make a welcome call to new members, or send an email if they can’t reach the new member by phone. Ambassadors can also arrange to meet new members at in-person events. Make new member/ambassador matches based on career stage, age, specialty/interests, and/or position so ambassadors are able to understand the new member’s needs.

One of the best benefits of an ambassador program is the microvolunteering opportunity it provides to your veteran members. It gives members the chance to make a difference in a way that doesn’t take much time at all.

The ambassador’s job is to learn as much as they can about the member—their membership goals, interests, and needs—and suggest what they can do to meet those goals and needs. They also check in occasionally with the new member during their first year of membership to assess their success with getting value and to make further suggestions.

Provide support and guidelines for ambassadors, for example, a private discussion group where they can find out about new resources and events, and share tips with fellow ambassadors.

#6. VIP Treatment at Events

Pay particular attention to new members at your events. Provide a “first-timer” or “new member” badge in a colored transparent badge holder, or attach a distinctive ribbon to their badge. If space permits, save some seats for new members in the front rows at keynotes or at tables with board members or ambassadors during meals.

Host an exclusive breakfast, reception or coffee/snack break for new members (and first-timers) before the main event begins. They’ll have an easier time if they can meet a few people at a smaller gathering before they walk into a larger crowd. Don’t use this as a formal orientation session, focus on networking and the informal mentoring that will naturally happen when new members find themselves amidst a group of veteran members and ambassadors.


An effective, multi-prong new member onboarding plan requires organizing ahead of time and tracking throughout the new member’s first year. Watch this quick video to see how MemberSuite’s E-Marketing solution can help you onboard new members, segment communications, and manage and track email marketing campaigns