Expert Advice for Engaging New Members and Keeping Them
In her book, The Art of Membership, Sheri Jacobs discusses how employers, in an effort to reduce attrition rates among new employees, are making investments to help new employees transition into their positions. The principles behind onboarding — the process of helping new employees transition into a job and assimilate into an organizational culture — have valuable application for associations as well.

Extensive research Jacobs conducted with current and lapsed association members revealed that a key predictor of retention oftentimes is an association’s ability to create a meaningful interaction with a new member within the first 90 days. Here are two tips for how an onboarding approach might be integrated into initial member interactions.

Focus on Their Needs, Not Yours

Groups and individuals join associations for a variety of different reasons, Jacobs said, despite similarities to each other in terms of age or generation, career stage, personal interests, professional specialty or employment setting. Although it would be ideal to get this information about them when they join, she said, most associations hesitate to do so. They are reluctant to create barriers to joining by making the process too cumbersome.

Therefore, taking steps to get to know new members should be a top priority immediately after they join. Unfortunately, she said, many organizations skip this step and go right to selling the new member their full range of products and services. An onboarding approach shifts an organization’s initial interactions with new members away from what can be perceived as bombarding and selling, and more toward asking, learning, synthesizing and customizing.

Help New Members Find Their Place

With advancements in technology, associations have nearly limitless options when it comes to gleaning information about the expressed interests and preferences of their members. One suggestion from Jacobs is to have a unique landing page on the association website for new members. Links could include: Just joined? Looking for a local event? Interested in volunteering? Looking for information on a specific topic? Looking for a new position or employee? Have questions? This approach is akin to giving a new hire the employee handbook and then standing nearby to answer the specific questions they have and helping them navigate the organization on their terms.

In establishing such a resource, Jacobs said, an association can accomplish two goals: 1) Help new members become familiar with your organization in a way that is driven by their needs and interests, and 2) Collect data on new members’ interests and track their movements to create more customized offerings in future communications.

Delivering relevant messages and offers early on in the relationship establishes trust and engagement, Jacobs said. That early investment can lead to more meaningful interactions as the member’s life cycle evolves, and can mean all the difference when it’s time to consider membership renewal.
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