Study: Online and Concierge Services Improve New Member Retention

According to the New Member Engagement Study, since the pandemic associations have been using more interactive onboarding tools to appeal to new members and improve retention rates.

Retaining new members requires sustained outreach and more customized onboarding, according to a new study.

The New Member Engagement Study, conducted by Kaiser Insights LLC and Dynamic Benchmarking, is the follow-up to a 2018 study looking at the methods associations use to connect with new members, and how those methods affect retention rates.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, since the pandemic, many associations have pursued more digital options for outreach. For instance, compared to 2018, more associations are using tactics like online communities, virtual orientations, and email to connect to new members. By contrast, the percentage of associations using tactics like letters and mailed welcome kits substantially dropped.

Amanda Lea Kaiser, founder of Kaiser Insights, said that it’s not just the use of more digital tactics that’s changed; associations are now making those tactics more interactive.

“The programs of four years ago were all about giving new members a tour of their benefits,” she said. “But what we would have called an onboarding webinar then is now a virtual onboarding event. Some of them are mixing in networking—a bunch of new members come together, and by the time you leave, you’ve met one or two other people.”

71 percent of associations say a top concern is new members not using their member benefits.

The study found that the most common worry among associations regarding new members is that they won’t make use of their benefits—71 percent of respondents cited it as a top concern. Kaiser said that engagement plans to mix a variety of tactics and start as soon as a member joins are more likely to succeed.

Those efforts don’t need to be expensive: According to the survey, the largest proportion of respondents (41 percent) say they spend less than $1,000 on their new-member engagement program. But there’s value in spreading out that spending over the course of a year: The most common (38 percent) campaign length for programs that enjoyed new member renewal rates above 80 percent was 10 to 12 months. 

Kaiser noted that such efforts can be tricky for small associations, however. “Reaching new members for a full 12 months works really well for medium-size and large associations,” she said. “But there are very small associations that have half a staff person, or one staff person, or they’re completely volunteer-run…. They’ll tend to emphasize the first-week or first-month welcome email or phone call, or doing something when they come to an in-person event for the first time. They’re a completely different animal.”

However new member engagement is done, the study suggests that associations should revisit it often: A majority (58 percent) say they revise their engagement programs at least every other year. Organizations with a “set it and forget it” approach were twice as likely to have a lower new member renewal rate, according to the study.

Improving that rate takes time, Kaiser said, but generally reaps benefits. “You’ll have something like 12 or 15 emails, measure the effectiveness of each email, swapping out ones that don’t work,” she said. “That takes a lot of time. Improving your renewal rate is a long game.”

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Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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