New Member Onboarding: It’s Not Just Show & Tell

Survey says member renewal rates increase from 62 percent to 68 percent after the implementation of a new member onboarding (engagement) plan. See why.
New Member Onboarding: It’s Not Just Show & Tell

The first few months makes all the difference for a new member. My gym understands this membership principle. They give two months’ free membership to new members who attend a four-session training program—essentially a new member onboarding program. In these sessions, a trainer learns about the new member’s goals and interests, introduces them to different aspects of the gym, conducts a baseline fitness assessment, and suggests a two-month training program.

When a new member understands and becomes comfortable with what the gym has to offer, they’re more likely to develop a workout habit. They start to see results, become motivated to keep going, and are more likely to renew their membership.

The same principle applies to association and chapter membership. If you learn about a new member’s needs, introduce them to the chapter and association, and guide them onto the most relevant membership path, you will create a member for life.

Collaborate with chapters on a new member onboarding plan

Kaiser Insights and Dynamic Benchmarking learned in an association survey that first-year member renewal rates increase from 62 percent to 68 percent after the implementation of a new member onboarding (engagement) plan. This modest increase is just one of the benefits of an onboarding plan.

Associations also benefited from:

  1. Feedback about what members value
  2. Feedback about why they joined
  3. Feedback about their professional challenges
  4. More detailed information about each member
  5. Increase in identified volunteers
  6. Cleaner database

Resist the temptation to impose an onboarding plan onto chapters or affiliates. Don’t assume you know what’s best for them. You have membership expertise, but they know the day-in/day-out challenges of running a chapter. Instead, collaborate with components on your new member onboarding plan so it’s both practical and sustainable.


Ask Staff & Volunteers to Join an Advisory Group

Invite staff and volunteer leaders from a diverse selection of components to join your staff in an advisory or working group. Together you can develop and promote an onboarding plan that takes advantage of each side’s strengths: the National association’s resources and the chapter’s human “touch.”


Develop Team Building with Member Journey Mapping

To facilitate team building, do a member journey mapping exercise together—either virtually or in person. This exercise puts all of you in a new member’s shoes and allows you to share knowledge about the new member experience, as well as identify gaps, places of confusion, and areas ripe for improvement.

Elements of a new member onboarding plan

A new member onboarding program isn’t only about show-and-tell. It’s about listening too. To meet a new member’s expectations, you must learn enough about them so you can show them how to best navigate the chapter and association experience.


Provide Resources & Technical Support

Both National and chapters must know what the other is doing and when. Remove any barriers to implementation by providing chapters the resources they need to uphold the plan on their end, for example, a step-by-step onboarding action plan, email templates, and web page copy. Consider providing technical support too, such as an email marketing or data-sharing platform.

The Secrets to Gaining Commitment From Chapter Leadership

Welcome new members right away

Nowadays, people expect instant gratification from their online experiences. Something must happen after a new member clicks “Submit” on their membership application. Whether the application goes to National or the chapter, someone must welcome the new member as soon as possible and give them suggestions on what to do next. These suggestions can be based on the basic demographic information you collect on the membership application, such as member type, career stage, job/specialty, or location.


Set Up an Automated Email Campaign

Since most components are managed by volunteers or a small staff, and lack the technical resources of National, you can hardly expect them to react instantly to new members. Instead, National could set up an automated email campaign for new members. If you share an AMS or email marketing platform with your chapters, they can see which emails have been sent and where new members are in the onboarding workflow.

Even if you don’t share such technology with chapters, you can develop a manageable onboarding plan with them and create resources that will help them welcome and onboard new members, for example, several variations of welcome emails targeted at different types of members.

Man Typing on Laptop

Get to know new members

Transform your new member outreach from an association-centric approach to a member-centric approach. Instead of barraging them with information, learn more about new members so you can better shape the onboarding campaign as well as future marketing campaigns.

Ask new members questions like:

  • Why did you join? What would you like to get out of your membership?
  • What are your three biggest challenges/frustrations at work or for your business?
  • What type of people would you like to meet?
  • What do you need to learn to move forward in your career or improve your business?


If chapters have the staff and/or volunteers to do it, a personal phone call or email goes a long way. Even though you can go deeper on the phone, many people don’t pick up their phone these days or they prefer to communicate by text or email. Find out which method each new member prefers.


Introduce Microvolunteering Opportunities

New member outreach is an excellent microvolunteering opportunity. Instead of committing to a long-term or time-intensive responsibility, members can volunteer to make a call or correspond via email with a new member. They find out about the new member’s goals, interests, and needs, and help them take next steps. A few months later, they check in with the new member to see how they’re doing.

Onboarding email campaign

Launch an Onboarding Email Campaign

An onboarding email campaign could run alongside these personal touches. These emails could automatically come from the chapter, if their email platform allows automated campaigns, or they could come from National. The National/chapter onboarding working group develops the framework for an email campaign that polls new members about their needs and interests, and makes suggestions for next steps, for example, an invitation to an upcoming National webinar or chapter event.


New member onboarding has traditionally been an information-sharing exercise because that’s something National can easily do at scale. Instead, provide the membership expertise and resources that chapters need to deliver a more effective onboarding experience. Our next post describes different methods for getting a new member involved in the association and chapter.

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