At the point your new member hits the ‘join now’ button (or drops their envelope into the postbox, if you’re still using paper applications), they are at their most enthusiastic. They have made a conscious decision to become a member, they’ve filled in the forms, sent you their payment details and provided evidence that they qualify for your membership - and they are now waiting for you to make the next move.
According to Sue Froggatt’s 2017 benchmarking report “Most associations (74%) have some type of activity underway to welcome and settle in new members. However, 1 in 4 do not have any new member welcoming process in place.”
No welcoming process in place…?
Wow! But perhaps the word ‘process’ is the issue here; maybe these 1 in 4 do send a welcome letter or email, and just didn’t consider this one-time communication a ‘process’ when they answered this research question. I hope so.
The first communication with new members - once applications have been assessed and approved - is so important. First impressions count, so you need to make sure your new member gets the best possible impression of you, their chosen membership body. That impression is going to be greatly enhanced if you can demonstrate that you know something about them and can show them how to get the most out of their membership straight away.
Automating the welcome
MemberWise’s 2016 Harnessing the Web report told us that around two thirds of organisations are using automated emailing, and most commonly automated are welcome emails. Email automation is going to help get that first communication going, whether you have a slow steady stream of incoming members, or a glut of new sign-ups once a year. But what other methods can you use to personalise the welcome process? Popular methods cited in a number of sector reports include phone calls, letters from committee members or other volunteers and invitations to events.
To ensure your efforts resonate with members, you’ll need to know not just some general characteristics - such as career stage or membership category - but something a bit deeper, such as the reasons they joined, what they are looking for from membership or what issues they are facing that you can help address. Sue Froggatt’s report also shares these tips for focusing on new members: find out what is relevant to them, keep in contact, personally invite them to something, make it easy for them to get going, and connect them with other members.
Take time to plan
Last September, Gavin Berkerey wrote us a guest blog describing how the Royal Society of Medicine introduced new member emails in a project that took three to four months of planning. “We designed a 6-week programme of emails, starting as the member joins, to inform them of the key products, services, events and other benefits most relevant to them, and linked to RSM content available elsewhere.” And the success of the programme has triggered other thoughts: “We’re considering how we might apply the same thinking to other stages of the membership lifecycle, particularly in relation to re-engaging with members who have not attended events or made use of other benefits in a while.”
And don't give up too soon
It seems the welcome process shouldn’t end too abruptly. A very recent new member engagement study by Amanda Kaiser, US-based membership researcher, has shown that although most associations follow new members between five and 12 months, plans that last seven to 12 months are best in terms of new member renewal rates. Thus, the welcome process could be planned to lead almost seamlessly into another important communications process: a renewal campaign tailored for your newest members.