By Sayana Izmailova
Do you remember the first conference you attended?
What about your first association networking event?
Did you feel welcomed, or more like a wallflower waiting for a dance invitation?
As a junior association staffer, I was excited to fly halfway across the country to attend my first industry conference.
But once I arrived, I felt so lost and alone since I didn’t know anyone there.
Try as I might, I felt like a new kid at high school where the cliques were very tight and unwelcoming.
Regardless of whether it’s virtual or in-person, joining a new group can be daunting.
That’s why, as a membership manager, it’s your responsibility to make sure new members feel comfortable at their first meeting or event with your organization.
In this post, I’ll go over our top 12 suggestions on how to help make that happen.
1. Send out a Welcome Email
The first thing that a new member should receive when they sign up is a welcome email. This can either be a custom email that you write manually, or an automated message. When a new member signs up online, receiving a message in their inbox within just a few minutes will act as confirmation that they completed the steps correctly and their membership is now active. An automated message will be less personal, but it will be much more timely.
Your welcome email should include everything new members need to know about their membership: links to important resources, the next event and how to sign up, what they can do to get involved, whom to contact for help, etc. Check out our article on how to write the perfect welcome letter or email for more ideas.
You can also consider turning your welcome email into a sequence of automated emails. If you have a lot of information to share as part of your new member onboarding process, why not split it up into several weekly emails? This will also get the new members into the habit of opening your emails on a regular basis and will help them stay engaged in the long run.
2. Offer a Tour of Your Site
Some of your members probably don’t participate very much online and don’t make use of all the functionalities of your website. If that’s the case, it’s likely because they simply don’t know how to.
When onboarding new members, offer to show them around your website. Guide them to the areas where they can learn about upcoming events and sign up, where they can engage in discussions with fellow members, where they can log into the members-only area, renew their membership, and update their own profile and information.
Empowering your new members to participate fully will make them more likely to stay engaged and in turn, get the full benefit from their membership.
3. Send out a Welcome Packet
Who doesn’t love getting presents in the mail?
In addition to your welcome email sequence, give your new members something tangible to enjoy. Your welcome packet can include all the necessary information they need to know, but it can also include fun stuff just because.
How about a handwritten note from your staff or board members? Or what about a little something they can use to show off their new membership, like a branded pen or notebook? One organization I worked with even sent out packets of tea and packets of flower seeds in their welcome packages!
If you’re looking for more ideas, here’s an entire blog post on how to create a great welcome packet.
4. Create a Welcome Video
Videos are much more engaging than a block of text, so if you have a lot of information to share when welcoming new members, why not put it together into a quick video?
Your new members will be much more likely to watch it and learn everything they need to know to make the best of their membership.
The easiest option is to create one video and send it to every new member as they join. But if you’ve got the bandwidth, you can even personalize the intro of each video to welcome the new member by name. Your members will appreciate the special touch!
5. Host a New Member Meeting
If you got an influx of new members, why not host a special new member meeting? You can even host these on a monthly basis if you’ve got enough new members joining each month.
This meeting will allow them to get to know your organization in a friendly and welcoming environment, where everyone else is also new and there’s no fear of saying the wrong thing or asking a silly question. It’s also a great opportunity for them to get to know each other and make connections.
If you already host a regular meeting for all members, another option to consider is including a brief breakout space just for your new members to connect.
6. Provide a Comprehensive Guide
If your new members’ first in-person encounter with your organization will be at a large conference, let them know what to expect by putting together a comprehensive guide. This will help them go into the conference with at least some idea of how to navigate the space, where to go to for help, what sessions they’re most interested in attending, and what to do with their free time.
For a great example of a first-time attendee guide, check out this guide prepared for the AHA Conference.
7. Connect Them With a Mentor
It’s important for new members to have someone they know and are comfortable with from the start. This will help make their onboarding experience more enjoyable and make them more likely to get all they can out of the experience.
One of the best ways for a new member to learn the ins and outs of their membership and get the most out of it is to get paired up with someone who’s already been a member for a while. This person can act as a mentor for them, giving them advice, answering any questions they may have, and encouraging them to participate as much as possible.
Not to mention, when the first event or conference rolls around, they’ll be able to arrive knowing that there’s at least one person there whom they already know and can talk to.
8. Have a New Member Spotlight on Your Site
Just as it helps for the new member to learn about the organization, it helps for existing members to learn about the new member.
A great way to do this is to dedicate a small section of your website to a new member spotlight.
This can be as simple as showcasing their name and photo so that others can recognize them at the next event. Or, you can take it one step further and provide a few words about who they are, why they joined, what they’re hoping to gain from their membership or any special interests they may have. Next time everyone meets the new member in person, this information can act as a great conversation starter.
Here’s an example of a Featured Member widget on a website built with Wild Apricot.
9. Have a Discussion Forum
A great way for new members to get acquainted with existing ones is through a discussion forum or chat room on your website. This is where members can ask each other questions, share resources and offer support outside of in-person events.
For new members, a discussion forum offers a low-pressure way to introduce oneself and talk to other members. For those who may be nervous about meeting new people in-person, it’s a great first step. Once they establish a few relationships this way, they’ll be much more comfortable going to an in-person event, since they’ll already know a few people there.
10. Show Your Value
Which benefits of your membership do your existing members find the most valuable? Is it the networking, the events or the resources? Make sure your new members can see this right away.
If your members value the educational resources you share, point your new members to your resource library and let them know what they can expect to see added there in the near future.
If your events get really good feedback, get your new members excited about your upcoming events. Share your calendar and encourage them to attend as many as possible.
Here’s an example of an events calendar displayed on a membership site built with Wild Apricot:
11. Welcome Them on Social Media
Social media is also a great place for your members to interact with your organization and with each other. Get your new members into the habit of checking your social media for updates or participating in your social space (ex: a Facebook group). You can do this by encouraging them to follow or join you there and prompting them to engage in conversation by asking them a question or asking for an opinion.
You can even give your new members a shoutout to welcome them to your social space. Do this as every member joins, or do it weekly or monthly and list all the members who joined in that time period.
12. Ask Your Members for Feedback
You could try all of the above tactics… but you won’t know what’s really working until you ask your members for feedback.
Make it a habit to regularly (once or twice a year) ask your members about their welcome experience, what they liked and what could have been done better. Ask them for suggestions on what they would have liked to see that you didn’t provide.
This will allow you to continue improving your onboarding plan for new members and make sure that all members enjoy their membership with your organization from the minute they join.
The Bottom Line
Member retention starts with a good member onboarding experience — if you can impress your members from the second they join your organization and make them feel welcomed and appreciated, they’ll be more likely to stick around for the long haul.
Continue improving your onboarding experience for new members, asking members for feedback through surveys, and engaging with your members as much as possible, and your membership will be sure to thrive!