I only became familiar with association member onboarding midway in my career as an association executive. I knew much earlier the concept of onboarding is commonly used in human resource management, which refers to the process of fully integrating new employees into the workplace and to bring them “on board” to the company culture. Onboarding thus goes beyond what we knew as orientation as it takes longer and involves not only HR officers, but also co-workers, managers and mentors.
In like manner, association member onboarding is a structured process of building member engagement from first contact until a member becomes well-versed about the organization. If an association wants to develop a solid relationship with a new member, having a new member onboarding plan guiding the way can help the member immediately get value from their membership in a way that works for them.
Association surveys reveal that the most commonly cited reason for not renewing membership is “lack of engagement with the organization.” This explains why many associations now have a tactical onboarding plan to increase member engagement.
Having a member onboarding plan helps an association learn about its new members and their interests, needs and goals. It can educate them about different ways to get value from their membership such as in-person and online educational programs, website resources, newsletters, networking events and volunteering opportunities. By keeping a channel open for feedback, an association can also develop and deepen its relationship with new members, too.
Gone are the days of merely sending a welcome email to new members. It is crucial for associations to develop and implement an onboarding program which should not be viewed as optional, but rather compulsory. As associations continue to evolve, their onboarding programs should also be adjusted to satisfy the changing needs of members. A case in point is the ongoing pandemic.
Here are a few tips to share from MemberSuite, a software provider of association management and event technology solutions for nonprofits:
Welcome packet. This should be a “one-stop-shop” for new members, including all vital information they will need upfront. They should be as personalized as much as possible and may include, among others, calendar of events, contact information sheet, recap of membership benefits and association swag.
Meet and greet. As a welcome event, this allows new members to meet other members, board members, association staff and committee members. However, because of the pandemic, this event has shifted to virtual. While the results are mixed, it can be an alternative to an in-person event when managed well.
Online community. This creates a great way to connect with new members and as a “safe haven” for them to ask questions, express interest and get to know more of each other. There has been an increase in using this engagement platform with good outcomes during the pandemic.
Personal welcome call. This changes the way new members view the association. It does not only show that they are wanted but that they are appreciated, too. Whether it’s the association president, or a member of the membership committee, the new member will know that they are receiving an individualized experience.
As they say, first impression lasts. Onboarding new members is not only exciting, but is extremely a must!
Octavio Peralta is currently the executive director of the Global Compact Network Philippines and founder and volunteer CEO of the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives, the “association of associations.” E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.