This was not just a little pattern in the data or even an epiphany. There was one theme running so strongly through each member research project I could not ignore it. It was that members who engaged very early in their membership were more excited about the association than members who reported that “the association just grew on them.”
These early engagers are special. They look to the association first when they have a question, they easily articulate the value they get from the association, they distinctly remember the value they got when they first joined, and they aspire to engage more, whether that means attending the annual conference or becoming a volunteer someday.
Some associations have far more early engagers than others, and these early engagers tended to engage with the same benefit. Depending on the association it could be a new-to-the-profession academy, a webinar series, the mentor program, a research report, or any other benefit. These special associations have what I call an Association Value Trigger Point (AVTP). An AVTP catches new member’s attention and delivers lots of needed value to them right at that critical point just after they join but far before they worry they made a mistake in joining.
The more I ran into early engagers who were more engaged, the more I wondered about what was happening on the association side. If members say, the best predictor of deep, life-long engagement is early-in-their-membership-engagement what are associations doing about that?
Some associations have new member onboarding programs, some associations have orientation programs, and some have welcoming programs. I wondered if these programs were unsung heroes? And if they were, which plans and which tactics work best?
Right around the time that these questions were swirling in my brain, I met Lisa Vivinetto from Dynamic Benchmarking. Dynamic Benchmarking was recommended to me because of their innovative platform. I knew they were solving a key member pain point because while working at a national association, one of the most frequent member requests was to get custom pulls of the benchmarking data, and the Dynamic Benchmarking platform allows participants to do just that.
Lisa and I hit it off, and before long we were talking about ways to partner. I ran the idea of conducting an association industry onboarding study by her, and she liked it. We did some research and found there was not a lot of information out there about onboarding programs and so with a lot of hope we outlined a plan for a dual-methodology benchmarking study which soon we started to call the New Member Engagement Study.
Because this was a new to the industry study, we decided to start with qualitative research first. The qualitative would give us a lot of detail, help us understand what was most important, and help us write the most accurate quantitative survey questionnaire possible.
After thirteen interviews with association professionals who were running onboarding programs, we had the data we needed to write the quantitative survey. The team at Dynamic Benchmarking swung into action. Holly Maki the Project Manager for this study carefully analyzed each proposed question and gave us recommendations for how to ask each question better. Soon we had a thoughtfully curated list of questions that promised to get in-depth data without taking respondents too long.
Then we faced the biggest challenge; no survey is any good without respondents. Lisa and I started to talk to our contacts in the industry and were thrilled when they too saw the possibilities of the research. In what seemed like no time at all 13 research partners had signed up with the promise to get the word out to their members and customers. Our research partners were great! On the day the study opened they moved fast, writing emails, and posts, and sending out tweets. We were grateful and grateful again when lots of early responses started coming in. Not only were association professionals responding, but they were also telling their friends, and they were emailing us thanking us for the survey.
As of today, we have 143 responses. It is time to do the analysis, write the report, and release the results to you, the respondents, and to the community. Our goal is to have the data ready to release in December. There is a lot of work to do between now and then but we are hopeful it will all come together in this tight timeframe. But you don’t have to wait until December because we can share a key highlight right now!
We did take an early look at the results overall, and I can tell you this, new member engagement programs measurably raise new member retention rates, and they do not have to cost a lot of money which is great news for associations. Are you curious to learn more? Like what does a successful new member engagement plan look like and how do you measure it?
In just a short month and change, we will have an in-depth report which will give you the data you need to either implement a new member engagement plan for your association or improve your existing program. Our respondents will receive this final report, and will also gain access to customizable data so they can see what their peers are doing and how they compare.
So if you are kicking yourself for not participating, do not worry. The platform is still open to responses. If you have not already participated, create an account so that you can gain access to the results in the platform later, then take the 15-20 minute survey, and you will be one of the gang!
We are grateful for all of your support!
Amanda Kaiser, Chief Path Finder at Kaiser Insights LLC
Lisa Vivinetto, Co-Founder & Chief Marketing Officer at Dynamic Benchmarking