First-Year Renewal Issues? Tweak Your Onboarding Strategy.

A new GrowthZone survey indicates that many associations struggle to retain first-year members. If your organization is one of them, a few adjustments to your member onboarding program could help reverse the trend.

If it’s been a while since you’ve evaluated how you onboard new members, there’s a new study that suggests now might be a good time to do it. Last week, the association management software firm GrowthZone released its 2020 Association Annual Survey Results, and it has good and bad news.

The good news first: New-member growth held steady over the past year. Forty-five percent of association professionals surveyed said their new-member rate increased, only one percentage point less than the previous year.

But there’s a more troubling statistic in this year’s report: Only 11 percent of respondents said their first-year member renewal rate increased in the past year, whereas 26 percent said it went down, and 61 percent said it remained about the same.

To hold onto new members after that first year, associations need to demonstrate value as quickly as possible, says Amy Gitchell, senior marketing communications specialist at GrowthZone.

“It’s extremely important that new members understand the value you bring to their lives,” she says. “In the survey, associations whose members recognized their value proposition reported higher renewal rates overall.”

That means you need to be thinking about proving value from the moment you begin onboarding a new member. If your onboarding program isn’t focused on value, a recent guide from MemberClicks has several ideas for how to make improvements:

Build targeted communications. In the GrowthZone study, one in four respondents said the top reason they saw increased member engagement was that they sent more targeted email communications to each member.

Callie Walker, a senior inbound marketing specialist at MemberClicks, recommends using an automated drip email campaign to communicate with members. Sync the campaign with your association management system, where additional member data can be captured.

For example, when your new members applied for membership, “were they given the option to select special interests?” Walker writes in the guide. “If so, consider sending them content right off the bat about those special interests.”

Send invitations to a “new members only” event. Hosting a few low-budget events for new members can help them feel welcome. They might take place during your annual meeting or another conference—examples include a networking happy hour or a gathering in a new-members-only lounge, Walker says. And don’t underestimate the power of virtual events, such as regular orientation webinars.

“The benefit of doing it in a webinar format is that you’re bringing your new members together, getting them to actively engage with your organization, and giving them an opportunity to ask questions—all crucial for onboarding success,” Walker writes.

Ask questions at the six-month mark. It’s also essential to listen to new members’ feedback at the midpoint of their first year. Walker suggests asking:

  • What do you like the most about membership? What do you like the least?
  • How often and why do you login to use the member portal?
  • What meetings or events have you attended since joining?
  • How likely are you to renew? Why or why not?

Checking in at the six-month mark gives you a chance to point out opportunities that new members may be missing or to resolve any frustrations they may be experiencing before you ask them to renew.

“If there’s something they’re not really digging or taking advantage of, it gives your association the opportunity to make adjustments before the question of renewal is put back on the table,” she writes.

(Olivier Le Moal/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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