May 6, 2019
The average retention rate for members is 84 percent, but the average retention rate for new members is only 70 percent, according to the 2018 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report from Marketing General Incorporated (MGI). It gets worse for associations with more than 5,000 members—their average new member retention rate is less than 60 percent. Ouch.
If you want to develop a solid relationship with a new member, the first year of membership is crucial. With a new member onboarding plan guiding the way, you can help members immediately get value from their membership in a way that works for them. At renewal time, they won’t think twice about making another dues payment.
The most commonly cited reason for non-renewal is “lack of engagement with the organization,” according to the MGI report. That explains why most associations (62 percent) have a tactical plan to increase member engagement.
A new member onboarding or engagement plan helps you learn about your new member and their interests, needs, and goals. You can educate new members about different ways to get value from their membership, for example, in-person and online educational programs, website resources, newsletters, networking events, and volunteering opportunities. By keeping a channel open for feedback, you also develop and deepen your relationships with new members too.
For decades, the new member onboarding plan consisted of mailing a “door-stop” welcome kit to new members. This heavy package contained pages of information about every feature of membership deemed important by departments across the association, along with a member directory, membership card, and other filler.
Nowadays, only 44 percent of associations send a welcome kit to new members, according to MGI, compared to 83 percent ten years ago.
Imagine receiving one of these huge packets of information. You set it aside to read when you have time, and then lose sight of it. It’s too much to digest in the small chunks of time that members can dedicate to association business. It’s a one-way communication vehicle, all about the association with no chance for the association to learn about the member.
Most associations (79 percent) now use email to welcome and onboard new members. The second most common tactic (45 percent) is asking new members to create a membership profile. You can always give members the option to receive information by mail, but wait until you learn more about them during the first months of onboarding so you can tailor the information you send to their needs and interests.
Send a welcome email to new members as quickly as possible after they click “submit” on their online membership application, and definitely within 24 hours. 96 percent of associations send at least one welcome email to new members as soon as they click the “join” button, according to a benchmark study on member engagement from Kaiser Insights and Dynamic Benchmarking.
Create a welcome email template for each of your membership personas or segments, and send the appropriate one based on what you learn from the new member’s application. For example, you may have different versions for member type (student, professional, vendor, etc.), membership tier, job or specialty, career stage, or geographic location.
Many associations supplement their welcome email with a phone call or follow-up email to learn more about the new member. Depending on your bandwidth, staff could make these calls, but you may want to offer this microvolunteering opportunity to members, either membership ambassadors or committee members.
Provide a checklist for guidance so callers remember to get the following information from the new member:
Callers must be knowledgeable enough about association resources and activities to suggest simple steps the new member can take to make progress toward their goals or to help them solve problems. Only recommend free resources for now, for example, online community discussion groups, newsletters, website resources, or webinar and session recordings. They just made a large dues payment so you don’t want to ask them to immediately spend more money.
A principal element of a new member onboarding plan is the email campaign. According to MGI, 33 percent of associations use an ongoing engagement campaign during a member’s first year. Amanda Kaiser says the most successful onboarding programs (as measured by new member retention rates) follow new members for seven months or more. These campaigns are growing in popularity as more associations adopt marketing tools that allow email automation.
Instead of overwhelming new members with information about the association, take this opportunity to learn more about them so you can better shape their onboarding experience and more effectively tailor future marketing campaigns.
During the onboarding campaign, provide small chunks of information spaced out over time. This type of information is easier for a member to digest and remember. Set up an automated campaign for each member persona.
Many associations keep new members off their regular marketing lists during the first three months of membership so they’re not overwhelmed with emails.
Pro tips: Keep emails brief. Allow plenty of white space by using bullets. Bold the most important information. Make sure emails are easy for a member using their phone to read and click links. Always include a call-to-action, something you want members to do right away.
A great topic for an early email is to introduce new members to your member portal. Do a video tour showing them how to update their profile and explaining why they’d want to do that.
Other initial emails could introduce them to your online community, website resources, exclusive member tools or services, or a relevant upcoming event.
Jane Nassiri, director of customer success at MemberSuite, recently told Associations Now that a multi-pronged strategy works best for new-member onboarding. During check-in calls, staff or volunteers can give new members personalized guidance on navigating association resources and getting the most out of membership.
Continue sending emails that introduce new members to an association benefit or resource, and invite them to do something that only takes a few minutes, such as answering a poll, suggesting an idea, watching a video, or signing up for a microvolunteering task.
Pro tips: Mix it up by using text and video in onboarding emails. Keep each email or video focused on one thing only, for example, briefly explaining the impact of a benefit.
After a few months, ask new members to customize their communication preferences by selecting newsletters relevant to their interests and opting out of irrelevant ones. Invite them to the member portal so they can complete their profile by adding additional data that will help you segment communications. When you ask new members for additional data, explain how you plan to use it—in other words, tell them “what’s in it for them.”
Stay tuned for our next post about more ways to onboard new members. In the meantime, find out how MemberSuite’s E-Marketing module can help you onboard new members, segment communications, and manage and track email marketing campaigns.