Lose the Paper and PowerPoint: A More Effective Approach to Onboarding Association Members

Back in the old days, new member onboarding meant two things:

  1. A humongous manila envelope arrived in the mail with folders, brochures, and flyers describing dozens of association programs, products, and services.
  2. An orientation session featured an interminable PowerPoint presentation about the same programs, products, and services.

Interesting? No. It felt more like the first day of driver’s ed. Nowadays, new member onboarding programs leave behind the paper and PowerPoint presentations.

The real purpose of new member onboarding

An effective new member onboarding program goes beyond a show-and-tell from your association. New members want to learn about relevant benefits, but you also need to learn about their membership goals, interests, and challenges. With this information, you can provide a more personalized onboarding experience that guides them to the most meaningful membership benefits and resources.

During the onboarding campaign, you have time to get to know the new member and start building a relationship with them. Ideally, you help them build an association habit.

The core element of onboarding: an automated email campaign

Eighty percent of associations send a welcome email to new members, but only 43% send a new member onboarding series of emails, according to the 2020 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report from Marketing General Inc. (MGI). No wonder associations struggle with new member retention!

The most effective approach to onboarding is a targeted, automated email campaign that delivers relevant, bite-sized messages. With a CRM like Salesforce, you can create dynamic criteria-based lists so new members only receive relevant membership resources, not a bombardment of information. You can base these automated onboarding campaigns on a new member’s membership type, specialty, career level, self-selected interests, or geographic (chapter) area.

Each email in the series highlights a membership benefit or resource that addresses one of the member’s primary interests or needs. A call-to-action in the email suggests a simple step the member can take right away, perhaps checking out a forum in the online community, participating in a micro-volunteering opportunity, or subscribing to a relevant newsletter.

How to learn more about new members

If you tailor onboarding emails to the new member’s needs and interests, you can tell them about the relevant opportunities and resources that await them. Here are some ways to learn what you need to know to create a more effective onboarding experience.

Volunteer outreach. During the first few weeks of membership, assign volunteers to check in with new members. Volunteers can ask about membership goals, challenges at work, desired skills, topics of interest, communication and networking preferences, and willingness to volunteer.

These calls or Zoom meetings are an example of micro-volunteering—an opportunity for members to contribute their time in a way that fits their busy schedules. The volunteer can suggest resources or education to check out, events to attend, and networking and volunteering ideas.

Survey. If you don’t have enough volunteers for this outreach, send new members a brief survey that asks the same questions. Create surveys for each member type so the questions are relevant.

Member profile. Invite new members to complete a detailed profile, including information about their career level, position, specialty, interests, and work challenges. In Salesforce, a Web-to-Lead form or an online form-building app, such as FormAssembly or Form Stack, can automatically populate the appropriate contact record and trigger a series of onboarding emails based on membership segment and other criteria.

Company memberships. Create more ties within the company by asking new members for the names of other employees who may benefit from association resources. After you welcome these folks, add them to the appropriate onboarding campaign.

Supplier members. Vendor members need special treatment because they have different membership goals than “regular” members. Find out about their product or service, membership expectations (and their employer’s expectations), marketing goals, target market, participation preferences, and expertise they could share through writing, speaking, and other volunteer activities.

Lead new members to helpful onboarding resources

Website. Associations with high retention rates are “significantly more likely” to encourage new members to take advantage of their members-only website resources, per the MGI survey. ASAE has a “Maximize Your Membership” page on their website with sections on how new members can get started, connected, and involved.

Webinar. Each month, ASAE hosts a webinar highlighting one membership benefit. Promote webinars about your membership benefits to all members since many will have forgotten about some benefits and will want to learn about new ones. If you use one of Pardot’s webinar connectors (WebEx, ReadyTalk, or GoToWebinar), all activity surrounding an onboarding webinar is added to the member’s record, including details such as registration, attendance, and follow-up actions.

New member virtual meetups. Give new members the opportunity to meet “with” other new members and a few veteran members who can guide the conversation.

Buddy system. Pair new members with veteran members for their first year of membership. You can set criteria in Salesforce so it matches new members to people in similar roles or at similar career levels but doesn’t pair them with competitors.

Membership 101: Create a new member orientation online course. Allow new members to opt in and out of different modules depending on their reasons for joining, interests, and needs. To prevent information overload, use short videos or snippets of information. With a learning management system, you can track their progress, see who’s taking advantage of onboarding resources, and identify who isn’t.

Online community. Host a special forum for first-year members. Ask those who are further along in their first year to advise the newbies. Assign staff and/or membership ambassadors to facilitate discussions and answer questions.

One of our clients built a Salesforce Community where new members connect with each other to exchange knowledge, solve problems, and share resources. They can join advisory groups, sign up to volunteer, and access other members-only benefits from within the member community. 

Keep an automated eye on new members throughout their first year

Associations using Pardot Engagement Studio can “listen” for changes to a new member’s record, such as when they attend their first event. Pardot can automatically send a thank you or a feedback email a few days later. You can also identify inactive new members who need a gentle nudge toward a relevant activity or resource.

Schedule regular check-in emails with new members throughout their first year. As their renewal dates approach, follow up with them to get their feedback on their experiences so far and provide guidance on activities they can explore.

When you rely upon an automated onboarding email campaign supported by a feedback loop and online resources to nudge new members along a path to engagement, they’re more likely to achieve their membership goals during their first year with your association – and you’re more likely to retain their membership.