Have you seen the video of all of the failed landing attempts by SpaceX rocket? Go ahead; I will wait [this YouTube video is funny, only slightly more than 2 minutes long, and it is safe for the office].
The video would have you believe that over the course of 3 years and many rocket landings SpaceX had failure after failure, although that’s not entirely true. Did you notice that the rockets in 2013 were landing in the open ocean? Then they got good enough to try to land them on a barge. Those first barge landings all exploded immediately upon impact. Then they started to land them on the barge successfully but, something would go wrong like a landing leg would crumple causing a delayed explosion. Not perfect, but better. Finally, they landed a rocket with no explosion but still, the landing was not perfect, but the landing after that was. You did not just watch a series of failed rocket landing attempts; you just watched how a company incrementally succeeds.
New member engagement programs succeed in much the same way (bet you didn’t know your job was much the same as a rocket scientist’s; it is!) Study results show that new member onboarding programs produce very moderate improvement in new member retention for the first two years. However, in year three we see exponential growth in new member retention rates. Why does it take so long?
New member engagement programs grow slowly for two reasons. First, many associations start with a small program, and as they see some success or receive positive anecdotal feedback, they add more tactics and touches. Second, not every tactic is going to work perfectly. A 9-touch email series often has a few underperforming emails, so we rewrite and test new messaging. In fact, the most successful programs are reviewed and regularly revised every six months.
New member engagement programs incrementally improve over an extended period until suddenly they are a success. You may notice that many, many processes, programs, and projects in your association run on this principle as well. Changing the board culture, or changing the staff culture happens incrementally over time. Association innovation occurs gradually. Getting approval for significant shifts in organizational strategy happens slowly.
The next time you are deep into a multi-year project or change, and it seems like the association is never going to reach its goal perhaps you are not experiencing a series of failures, but instead, you are creating a series of incremental successes.