5 Ways to Boost Engagement with New Member Onboarding

From finding your ‘voice,’ to testing email subject lines, using webinars and creative touchpoints, you can deliver better connections and value.

We all know that how well you onboard a new member can have lasting impact on their membership experience, value, and ultimately, when it comes time to renew. Here are some tips, strategies and techniques that have worked well for me to boost engagement when it comes to new member onboarding.

1. Know the members you’re onboarding

If you haven’t already read my blog, Do You Know Your Association’s Ideal Members, take a few minutes to review that now. We all assume we know our members but when is the last time you talked to them in person, on the phone or even virtually? Do you know what’s on their mind right now? What are three problems they’re struggling with – either in their professional or personal lives? If you can’t name them, it’s time to pay a visit, pick up the phone or schedule a virtual chat.

When you know your members well, you know how to speak to them through your engagement campaigns or even in your phone calls or outreach efforts.

If you have low engagement rates, it may be because you’re just not connecting with them. In his book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell talks about the importance of “People Preparation” prior to one of his lectures. He frames his talks by addressing these seven questions. 

I’ve slightly reworded and pared them down to six to fit the context for associations/businesses:

  • Who are your members?
  • What do your members/customers care about?
  • Where do your members/customers come from?
  • Why did they decide to join your association or become a customer?
  • What does your association/business offer them?
  • At the end of the membership lifecycle, how do we want them to feel?

Thinking through those questions as you prepare your member onboarding process will make your campaigns more successful because you will be talking to them in ways that show you care and want to provide value in their life through their membership.

In answering these questions, you will also find your association “voice.” As an association, do you want to be known as a:

  • Helpful guide (most associations/businesses fit this “voice”?
  • Trusted friend?
  • Tough yet caring coach?

As you’re aware, associations have many different member segments and serve multiple generations. So how you talk to one segment or generation may be slightly different than how you talk to another segment so keep that in mind.

For example, if you’re a technical society of engineers, you may want to serve as a helpful guide versus a trusted friend. However, if the same society is speaking to members of its student chapters, you may want to come across as a trusted friend because of the more casual relationship and dialogue.

2. Use A/B testing and review your analytics

Spending a few minutes reviewing data from previous campaigns can really pay off.

Pull up your analytics and see which campaigns were more successful than others.

Ask yourself:

  • What was different about them?
  • Which subject lines performed well?
  • What time of day were they sent?
  • What was the content?

Reviewing your campaigns can help shed some light on engagement best practices. Most email service providers, such as Constant Contact and MailChimp, have great data you can draw from to see which campaigns had the most success so you can replicate your efforts.

Also pay attention to your bounce rate and deliverability. It could be that your onboarding emails are landing in Spam and not in their Inbox. You can learn more about authenticating your email address for greater deliverability, here.

Reviewing your data helps you see which subject lines performed better, and you can also use the preview text to increase your open rates and engage your audience better.

Many people consider preview text as optional, but it’s one of those great little secrets that few association marketers leverage. Why is it so important?

Preview text gives your members a peek into the first line of your email and it works hand in hand with your subject line to grab them with something compelling and give them a reason to open your email.

Want some inspiration? Head over to your Promotions folder for Gmail users for great examples from some of the biggest and best brands.

3) Review your campaigns with your membership team for additional insights.

One of the biggest membership marketing mishaps I see happening with associations and even in the business world, is a misalignment between the membership/sales department and the marketing/communications department. Talk to your sales team and see what they are hearing from your new members. 

Some questions to start the discussion include:

  • Are there particular resources new members find more helpful? If so, include them in your onboarding campaigns.
  • Have they logged into your Member Portal or introduced themself in your online communities? If not, follow up phone calls and even posts on your social media or in your Facebook Groups or other social media communities can help remind them to take advantage of their new membership.

It also helps to have your member onboarding emails come from a designated staff member from your Membership Department who is responsible for helping them directly. That way, you’re providing the name and contact information for their go-to person. Seeing a consistent name identified with your association can build helpful connections. If they have a question about their membership, they’ll think, Oh, I can reach out to Amy Jones because she emails me all of the time from Association XYZ.

4) Host a virtual New Member Orientation and give them reasons to be there.

Associations leverage webinars for value all of the time. Why not use webinars as a way to onboard new members and walk them through what your association has to offer them? Invite several active members of your association to join you and have them share the value and benefits they enjoy.

An association I work with has an underused member resource that offers one hour of free consultation with an industry attorney/expert. Very few members take advantage but those who do say it’s the best thing about their membership. Use your onboarding webinar to tell stories like those that can have a huge impact on new members.

5) Reach out with a phone call or even direct mail.

For those members who are still not engaging after many efforts, incorporate personal phone calls within the first couple of months after joining. Like us, members/customers are busy folks and it’s easy to overlook email – especially if they land in Spam or Trash.

A warm, genuine phone call can stand out in a sea of cold, digital outreach.

In the same way, a postcard or letter can also stand out, encouraging them to check out their new membership benefits and pointing them to your most popular resources for members.

By knowing your members better, reviewing your analytics, testing and aligning efforts between your membership/sales and marketing/communications efforts, you can set yourself up for greater member engagement success. With concentrated efforts over a steady and consistent course, you can boost your engagement while instilling value. As a result, you’ll have higher retention rates with more members appreciating the value your association provides in their life.

Want some email subject line inspiration to increase membership engagement? Get my 25 best email subject lines for member onboarding.


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