October 1, 2019

The Secret to Retaining New Members

The Secret to Retaining New Members

After a couple years belonging to your association, members see their annual dues invoice as a regular bill they’re used to paying. They don’t pay it with any great expectations; they just pay it.

But when a new member joins your association and pays their membership dues for the first time, they approach it with a completely different feeling.

They’ve done their research, talked to a few people, and have decided to join your association with specific goals in mind. They have great expectations.

However, looking at the data, new member expectations aren’t always being met. The average new member retention rate is only 65% for individual membership organizations, according to the 2019 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report from Marketing General Incorporated. Trade associations do better by retaining 84% of new members.

If membership doesn’t live up to a new member’s “great expectations,” they won’t see the value and won’t renew. So how do you meet those expectations and retain new members?

What New Members Seek from Your Association

You may have a long list of membership benefits, but just about every member is looking for the same things.

Relationships. New members want to connect with people who “get them,” members who do the same kind of work, struggle with the same challenges, and have the same aspirations. Many of them seek the counsel and guidance of mentor-types. Others would appreciate the opportunity to play mentor to those further back on the career track.

Community. New members seek a professional home where they can belong, where people say hello when they walk into a room, and where maybe they can make a name for themselves.

Information. New members want to keep up on industry news. They need solutions to specific problems, answers to questions, and product/service recommendations. What they learn from one discussion in your online community could be worth the price of dues for them.

Knowledge. Lifelong learning is not a luxury; it’s a necessity in today’s changing workplace. New members want to improve their work habits, practice, and operations. They want a better performance evaluation—or a better job.

Sales. Vendor or supplier members join your association to build brand awareness and develop leads that will result in sales. They want to develop relationships too.

Business environment. Trade associations lobby for the industry, so companies benefit whether they’re members or not. But, if a company is not a member, they don’t have a voice or a seat at the table. Member companies seek a return on their dues investment: they want to be part of building a better business environment with laws and regulations that help them do business.

Retain New Members by Guiding Them Through the Association Experience

Some new members have defined membership goals, and some have only a vague idea of what they want to accomplish. Don’t leave them hanging because you think, “Our website is so great and we send so many informative emails, of course, they’ll see what to do to pursue their goals.”

Onboarding email campaign. Many membership experts suggest not adding new members to regular email marketing lists until three or four months after they join. Instead, add them to an onboarding email campaign that guides them through relevant resources and benefits.

Develop an onboarding communication strategy that:

  • Helps you learn about their membership goals
  • Shows them the path to attain those goals
  • Helps them see the business value of their membership

Segment new members by membership types and membership goals, for example, early career vs. experienced professional, vendor vs. regular members, and chapter member vs. chapter nonmember. Develop onboarding paths based on primary goals and needs.

Every week, introduce each segment to a new resource or benefit, and ask them to complete additional fields in their profile. For example, you could introduce a career center feature, website resource, micro-credential program, micro-volunteering opportunity, or online learning program. Because they just spent money on dues, only introduce free or inexpensive resources and benefits.

Once a month, send a summary version of the marketing and informational emails you’ve sent to all members. Tell them about the different newsletters they’ll have the option of getting in the future.

Personal outreach. If you have the bandwidth, you can take a more effective and personal approach by having staff or volunteer membership ambassadors call or email members to discuss their goals and learn more about them. Otherwise, you need a more scalable approach.

Online learning paths. You could use your learning management system (LMS) to offer online learning paths for different membership segments and goals. Once you set it up, it’s hands-off for staff. You can see which modules new members are exploring and identify those who aren’t participating.

Website. Create a new member page on your website or member portal where new members can connect to the LMS and other onboarding resources.

Webcasts. Present quarterly webcasts featuring members from different segments talking about how they achieved their goals and suggesting next steps for new members. Use a chat tool to encourage interaction and post webcast recordings on your new member webpage.

Manage Expectations of New Members

Expectation management is a critical part of new member onboarding. If new members have never belonged to an association before, they may have unrealistic expectations about membership benefits. They must learn that they won’t achieve their goals without doing the work, for example:

  • Making the effort to connect with others
  • Showing up for webinars, events, and learning programs
  • Giving feedback and asking questions
  • Taking time to read

Vendor members are especially susceptible to this syndrome. Let them hear the voice of experience. If they gain business in their first year of membership, they’re an outlier. It takes time to build a reputation, relationships, and trust. Members see new vendor members come and go. They’re waiting to see who makes the effort to become a real member of the community.

Check in with First-Year Members

Throughout the entire first year, check in with new members via emails. Or, create a new microvolunteering opportunity: membership ambassador. It takes only 20 to 30 minutes a month for an ambassador to talk with a first-year member and help them navigate the association.

Send out quick polls or surveys to get new member feedback, and find out their interests and availability for microvolunteering tasks.

Track participation data of first-year members in your AMS. Don’t wait until renewal time to see who’s at risk. Check data every few months. At six months, put inactive new members into a separate group for special handling. A call now is worth a renewing membership later.

Did You Pass the Test for Retaining New Members?

If you’ve done your job right, when new members look back to see if it’s worth renewing, you will have met their original expectations by helping them fulfill their two primary membership goals:

  • Connect with others and feel a sense of belonging.
  • Achieve career/business goals and personal/professional growth.

After they renew, get their feedback on the onboarding experience. Find out what was especially helpful (you may have to remind them) and what was missing. Ask what they would like to accomplish in the coming year.

The lifetime value of a member is well worth the additional effort you must make during the critical first year of membership. To help you minimize those efforts and track new member engagement, take a moment to learn more about our MemberSuite membership solution.