The New Member Engagement Study, a collaboration between Dynamic Benchmarking and Kaiser Insights LLC, shows that new member onboarding, orientation, and welcoming plans (we call these New Member Engagement Plans) are very beneficial to associations and their members. They grow new member renewal rates by 9.7% on average, and they improve not only new member engagement but overall member engagement too. But, these programs are also slow to show significant results. Realizing slow returns can be a real barrier to gaining board, staff leadership, or peer buy-in.
In fact, New Member Engagement Programs are so slow to grow we do not see much of a boost in the first year. There may be a modest increase the second year, but significant results don’t come until year 3 or later. Wow! That is a long time to wait. What is going on here?
New Member Engagement Plans Grow Slowly
There are two reasons why New Member Engagement Plans are a slow build. First, study respondents noted that they tend to start their program with one tactic and grow it from there. An association might begin with a single welcome email for new members. Once they have a few months experience with sending a welcome email, they add a welcome phone call or another tactic. Some membership directors build their program by adding one tactic at a time every 3 to 6 months, and others try three new tactics at a time every year or two.
The second reason why New Member Engagement Plans are slow to show results is that there is a lot of experimenting, testing, and trying again along the way. Plan managers measure everything they can from opens to clicks, to page views, to responses. With email, in particular, we can test the effectiveness of frequency, subject lines, message content, tone, timing and more. We may not hit the target the first time we send a special email to new members, and it takes time to craft, test, measure, and revise these communications. Likewise, phone scripts, letters, videos can all be tried and edited along the way with each test getting you closer to optimal performance.
Because these programs start slow and build and because there is a lot of experimenting with each moving part usually we usually do not see new member renewal rates quickly shoot off the charts. And because these programs are so slow to grow, this can create problems for association professionals trying to get buy-in from the board or staff leadership or the peers we need to collaborate on the program.
Getting Program Buy-In
First, someone may ask, what will a New Member Engagement Programs do for our association? The big news is these programs contribute to the overall health of the association. Sure, New Member Engagement Programs grow new member renewal rates but, that is just indicative of a more significant impact the program is making. Research shows that when new members are engaged very early in their membership, within 3 days to 3 weeks, they are more engaged the life of their membership. The bottom line is highly functioning New Member Engagement Plans increase overall member engagement, which is something we all want.
Next, they might wonder how do we know a New Member Engagement Program will work for our association? New member onboarding, orientation, and welcoming programs are successful in all sorts of different associations. From small to large associations, from professional to trade associations, and for those that reach local, national, even global audiences. We can also ensure our plans are successful by committing to the iterative test and improve approach that so many associations have found beneficial.
Finally, they ask, this has to cost a ton of money, right? Nope! In fact, on average associations spend less than 1% of their overall budget on their New Member Engagement Program. We are not asking leadership to approve a significant budget expenditure, but we will need to make a considerable time expenditure. New Member Engagement Programs are most effective when more than 10% of the association’s staff time is allocated to the program.
Realize Results Faster
Even if we get leadership and peer buy-in, it would be nice to see an impact earlier, right? Are there techniques for developing a program that becomes successful faster? Maybe!
In the study, association professionals often referred to intention and tone. When you start planning your program, or if you are getting ready to revise an existing program, think about your intention. How do you want new members to feel when they receive your new member messages? Warmly welcomed? Excited for more? Tone plays a big role because the right tone can help a new member feel like they are valued, that they belong and confident that more great stuff is coming their way. Or messaging not carefully crafted can feel lifeless and flat, more like an advertisement than like a sincere greeting.
We also learned that programs planned to interact with new members until 7-12 months performed best. Commit to following new members longer. Do not stop at 3 or 6 months, keep sending our most at-risk members messaging designed just for them.
Finally, start with the tactics that tend to work best. Association professionals say the most useful new member engagement tactics are emails, phone calls, and engaging them during in-person events (welcoming committees, conference orientation, buddies, and more). Starting your program with a mix high-performing tactics is likely to boost your results.
The research results are too compelling to ignore. A New Member Engagement Program can increase member engagement at your association. It is not too late; this is the perfect time to build a new program or expand an existing program.
You can find more strategies, tips, and how-to’s in the complimentary New Member Engagement Study report. After you read the report, you will want to head over to the Dynamic Benchmarking Platform to slice and dice the data to see exactly how your peers are engaging their new members using Dynamic Benchmarking’s intuitive, user-friendly software.
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