First impressions truly matter. In a 2016 Harvard Business Review article titled “How to Make a Great First Impression”, several psychologists assert that the first few interactions are crucial turning points in a relationship. “First impressions matter so much because they happen fast”, according to the article, and they’re incredibly hard to bounce back from when mishandled.
In the associations world, the need to forge deep and lasting bonds with members is omnipresent. And like any relationship, the roots of membership are planted in the very first impression: joining and onboarding. When members first join your organization, they don’t want to get handed a receipt and soon after be forgotten about. They want to feel valued, welcome, and important. Newcomers are hungry to get involved and hit the ground running, but that hunger can fade if not satiated by an effective member onboarding program.
New member onboarding means different things to different associations, but it all boils down to one common goal: making new members feel valued and excited from the moment they join. In the long run, positive first impressions with newcomers will pay dividends for your organization’s ability to retain loyal members.
At E Group, our association clients are always searching for ways to increase new member retention with onboarding and welcome packages. Often, we find that the most common member engagement challenges for associations come simply from the lack of a structured onboarding plan. After all, it’s vital to your organization’s success to lock in a strong relationship with new members from your very first interaction. But given how readily available resources are today, such as social media and unique promotional products, it’s easier than ever to curate a successful strategy for onboarding new association members.
Keep in mind that the tips below are just a general guide, as onboarding programs and welcome kits for new association members are only complete when augmented with custom packaging, products, and messaging that make your brand truly stand out. E Group can help with that.
3 Steps to Increase New Member Retention with Onboarding
1. Give them a heartfelt welcome.
When new members join the ranks of your association, this is your first chance to lay the foundation for a strong, mutually beneficial relationship going forward. Don’t hesitate. Prove the value of membership with your association right away, and prove that they’re valued by you and everyone in your organization. With letters, emails, videos, small gifts, or any variation of inviting messages, you can create welcome kits for new association members that foster a memorable onboarding experience from the get-go.
Nowadays, the possibilities for how you can design welcome kits for new association members are endless. At the very least, be sure to send new members an instant confirmation of their membership via email once they’ve joined. Include friendly, personable messaging and a short blurb explaining what to expect next.
Then comes the fun part, where you can exercise some creativity to increase new member retention with onboarding that’s both warm and memorable. Perhaps you’d like to send a welcome email, complete with a video message from the CEO or a call-to-action, such as inviting new members to join your Facebook group or attend an upcoming event. Or you can opt for tradition, and send them a physical welcome letter, enclosed with all the information they need to get started with your organization. If you choose snail mail, be sure to send it swiftly and in neat, attractive packaging. You don’t want your new members to wait a month to receive a welcome letter, or worse, receive something that looks sloppy or rushed.
In this first phase of onboarding new association members, it’s important that you lay out any steps they should take after joining. For example, if your organization is world or nationwide, should they get in touch with their local chapters? Should they “like” your Facebook or LinkedIn pages? Or browse through your annual apparel and products catalogue? Laying out next steps is vital to your new member onboarding, otherwise you’ll risk them feeling lost and confused.
2. Keep their excitement going.
Our friend Joey Coleman, an expert on customer engagement, teaches the importance of a customer’s experience in their first 100 days. This timeframe is vital for establishing long-lasting trust and loyalty with a new customer. If you think of your new members as customers, the same logic can be applied to onboarding new association members. In order to increase new member retention with onboarding, it can’t stop after their first day, week, or month. Ease into it, and continue to remind them why they joined in the first place.
At this point, it’s a good idea to consider the best membership benefits your organization has to offer. Communicate clearly and frequently with your new members about events they can attend, products they can purchase, and other long-term benefits they’ll enjoy as members of your organization. Ask them how their membership is going or what needs to be improved. Organize a face-to-face meeting with new and existing members, and invite them to events specifically for newcomers.
Sometime in these crucial first 100 days, you might also consider gifting new members with a token of appreciation for joining. At E Group, we’ve found that one of the most successful association member engagement strategies is to offer custom apparel and products. Budget-friendly products such as water bottles, pens, t-shirts, and stuffed animals are all great options for new member welcome gifts. You might also consider inviting new members to purchase bigger-ticket items, such as your association’s signature jacket or polo, portfolios, custom ballpoint pens, vacuum-sealed water bottles, t-shirts, and more.
Your member engagement and branding teams can team together to curate a collection of branded products for your organization. You might also consider working with an engagement agency, such as E Group, to find the very best products for your brand.
No matter the product, inviting new members to represent your brand will trigger a sense of belonging and pride for your organization. They’ll be thrilled to show the world what they’re part of.
3. Use social media to interact with your members.
Chances are, your members joined because they’re strong believers in your organization’s mission. But, it’s the job of your member engagement team to keep reminding them that, especially throughout the onboarding process. Today, one of the best association member engagement strategies is easy to use and right at your fingertips: social media.
Here at E Group, we’ve written a lot about the pros and cons of social media, namely as it relates to social media in the workplace and other professional environments. There are certainly both pros and cons of social media to consider, especially if your brand hasn’t used it before, but in most cases the minor risks are well worth the reward. With some practice, you’ll be able to find an impactful voice for your brand using platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter.
Use social media to exude the pride and the best membership benefits your association has to offer. What’s special about your organization? Who have you positively impacted, and what have you accomplished? Maintain an interactive presence on your chosen platforms, sharing pictures, videos, updates, and events with new (and existing) members. Empower your existing members and employees to have some fun on social media. Often times, the best cheerleaders for your brand are right in your very office: your employees. Showcased on social media, their passion and excitement will speak volumes to new members and help them stay excited about your organization’s mission going forward. The result is even better if new members are invited to interact on social media, too.
Side note: In your heed to tackle member engagement challenges for associations, it’s important not to forget about the employees who keep your organization running everyday. Consider these employee engagement solutions for nonprofits, and you’ll find that the strongest brand champions are already within your ranks.
What association member engagement strategies should you take away from this article? To wrap up, let’s break it down into three easy, actionable steps that increase new member retention with onboarding.
- The Welcome: Create memorable and warm welcome kits for new association members, whether by email or snail mail. Let them know you’re thrilled they joined, and invite them to take next steps. Polished packaging and branding is a must.
- The Follow-Up: Check in with new members periodically in their first 100 days or so. Invite them to show off your organization’s signature apparel and items. Also consider sending a “thanks for joining” gift embellished with your logo.
- The Lasting Impression: Empower employees and existing members to engage with newcomers as they ease into membership, especially on social media. Invite them to events, share photos, videos, updates. Make them feel they’re part of something bigger.
Most importantly, remember that engaging new members in your association doesn’t stop after they’ve joined. In fact, it shouldn’t even stop once your onboarding process has finished. It’s always the right time to brainstorm new and unique ideas in order to forge lifelong, loyal, and engaged members at your association.