By Sarah Lampson
1. Greet new members.
This is fairly basic, but many associations don’t even include a welcome message with their online receipts. There are many ways to welcome new members: a welcome phone call or email from a staff member or fellow member, membership in a special interest group which facilitates networking among new members, inviting them to participate in a mentorship program and a special reception at the annual conference.
2. Introduce them.
Invite new members to be profiled in the newsletter, introduce them at in person in events, and connect them with another member who could help them with a need they have identified in the welcome call. Invite them to join the association’s LinkedIn group so others can put their name and face together from their photo. My association has an online resource library where I encourage members to fill in their profiles and photos too.
3. Educate new members on the value of membership.
Often people join an association for a particular program or service, not realizing how many other opportunities are afforded by membership. A free webinar and/or conference session providing an overview of the association’s programs and services can be invaluable to newcomers - both in engaging them and helping them maximize the value of their membership investment. My associations’ welcome webinar is offered quarterly and also open to non-members wishing to learn more, which has attracted even more new members.
4. Engage through diverse volunteer opportunities.
Volunteering is a great way to get to know other members, and it is of great value to the association. Members learn a lot about their association by volunteering, and as understanding grows so does commitment and engagement. The more varied the opportunities – in terms of skill sets, time required and location – the more members will get involved. My association has a volunteer opportunities page, and the positions have not only attracted new members but we also are contacted by interested non-members several times a year.
5. Ask newcomers for help.
Some members will actively seek out opportunities to get involved, but there are many others who will help if asked. When speaking to new members always ask them to volunteer. Almost everyone I have asked has said yes, so don’t assume they are not interested and willing just because you don’t hear from them.
6. Be strategic in including new members in events.
Make sure there are attendees who will keep an eye out for first time attendees and make them feel welcome. It can be very hard for a newcomer to connect with peers or meet specific people in a crowd of hundreds; having a buddy system or registration list in advance can help. Members are more likely to return if they get what they want the first time. Some people are more comfortable attending an event as a newcomer if they have a structured role at least part of the time, so encourage new members to volunteer as well.
7. Be strategic about welcoming new members.
Ask new members what they want. What were their goals in joining your association? Help them achieve these goals by directing them to the correct programs, introducing them to the contacts they need and providing opportunities they seek. Measure your association’s success through conversations, surveys and new member participation rates. Do exit interviews with non-renewing members, and use their feedback to improve your offerings.
8. Create multiple ways for new members to connect.
My association gives all members access to a list-serve of all members (except those who opt out), and this is a simple and highly valued service. Members have access to their peers across the country with a quick email, and we have found that the majority of members use the list-serve appropriately and in line with association policies. While the list-serve is popular, new members can also connect directly to other members through a mentorship program, LinkedIn group, Twitter, special interest groups, live events, a chat area on webinars, list-serves for students in different programs and of course by volunteering.
9. Ensure inclusivity.
Newcomers should be able to get involved in all programs and services and be recognized from the start. An association’s awards programs should include awards for new members, not just the most senior members. New members have expertise too and should be included in leadership positions such as presenting at a workshop or webinar, chairing a committee or leading a project. Annually review and audit your association’s offerings to ensure new members can participate in them.
Sarah Lampson is the Executive Director of CARA and works with the Executive Board to provide organizational leadership and develop and implement its strategic plan. Sarah’s key achievements include significantly increasing services to members, a proven track record of strong financial management and stewarding international partnerships that have resulted in the development of Canada’s first professional qualifications in research management and administration. Since Sarah was recruited to CARA in 2013 membership has increased 15% and the number of members volunteering with the association has increased 400%. Sarah has co-authored two books and is a nominee for the Hamilton YWCA Women of Distinction awards in March 2016. You can follow her on Twitter at @lampson_sarah.