To Engage New Members, You Need a Plan

You’ve signed up some new members? Good news, but don’t rest on your laurels. A recent survey confirms that to get first-time members on board and involved with your association—and more likely to renew next year—you need a plan.

One of the biggest challenges that I hear most often from association professionals is how to get new members engaged and ready for renewal.

Here at this blog, we have documented tried and true methods to increase the likelihood of a renewal. Almost invariably, they focus on engagement. But it’s not always easy to get newbies actively participating in your organization—sometimes it requires a plan.

A new survey from Dynamic Benchmarking, LLC, and Kaiser Insights, LLC, shows that having a new-member engagement plan can significantly improve retention of first-year members. On average, association professionals said renewal rates for new members rose from 62 percent to 68 percent after the implementation of a plan.

Consultant Amanda Kaiser, one of the report’s authors, has spent a lot of time getting inside the heads of new members through both qualitative and quantitative research.

“In interviews, I have heard about the importance of those first few interactions that associations have with their members,” she says. “We now know that new member engagement programs—defined specifically as onboarding, orientation, or welcome programs—can work for pretty much anyone, trade or professional associations.”

The size and structure of your organization doesn’t matter, according to the survey. The findings indicate that a deliberate approach to new-member engagement can bring positive results for both small- and large-staff associations, as well as for organizations with local, national, or international members.

What matters is having a plan. “Organizations that have a really detailed and time-tested plan are likely to have a far better outcome for engagement,” Kaiser says. “You also need to be constantly evaluating how you are engaging.”

The advantages of a new-member engagement program are far-reaching. Survey respondents ranked the following as key outcomes:

  1. Feedback about what members value (70 percent)
  2. Feedback about why members joined (57 percent)
  3. More detailed information about each member (55 percent)
  4. A cleaner member database (49 percent)
  5. Feedback about their professional challenges (44 percent)
  6. Increase in identified volunteers (25 percent)

One of the more eyebrow-raising findings: 60 percent of respondents said they want to track new-member engagement using an index or scoring system, but only 11 percent are doing so. That indicates a need for association pros to study and talk openly about how they’re doing engagement scoring. Those looking for a do-it-yourself approach might want to consider the Digital Analytics Association’s method: DAA uses an Excel spreadsheet to deliver to each member a personalized scorecard, showing the value of the member benefits they’ve used since joining.

Planning Your Program

What exactly does the typical new-member engagement program look like? And what tactics might help to improve outcomes?

Most associations actively seek to engage new members through a variety of touchpoints for five to seven months after they join, according to the report, but renewal rates were highest for programs that extended through the first year.

The way you make your touchpoints also matters. Respondents rated email (63 percent), direct phone calls (38 percent), and in-person events (38 percent) as the top three tactics to drive new-member engagement.

Simply repeating the same messages isn’t enough. “Constantly updating your member communications with new and relevant information is important,” Kaiser says. “Some associations are going into their email campaign monthly and making periodic changes. The set-it-and-forget-it model doesn’t work.”

And while most respondents still send membership welcome kits (65 percent) and letters (55 percent), they rate their effectiveness much lower: 24 percent said welcome kits were effective, and 17 percent thought the same for welcome letters.

“That could be a place to start,” Kaiser says. “Ask: Can we revise our letter? Or should we stop doing a traditional welcome kit? It could make room for another promising tactic.”

While an engagement plan doesn’t have to cost a lot, the study showed that such plans were more successful when associations allocated at least 11 percent to 20 percent of staff time to the project. “It’s important to make an investment of time because every new-member engagement program has a lot of moving pieces,” Kaiser says. “It tends to be a very manual process and, by its very nature, should be constructed specifically for new members and their needs.”

Finally, don’t expect your new-member engagement program to kick in overnight. The study indicates that positive results typically come after year two.

What new member engagement strategies or tactics have you found to be successful? How do you score new-member engagement? Post your comments below.

(SARINYAPINNGAM/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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