Archive for June, 2021

Four Tips for Planning a Successful Post-Pandemic Event

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Attendee expectations have changed due to the pandemic. Here’s how planners can address them.

Attendee expectations evolved due to the pandemic, and event planners must keep their new wants and needs in mind for successful meetings in our ever-changing world.

It all starts with safety protocols. Even as the risk of contracting COVID-19 decreases, attendees remain cautious. They expect cleanliness and social distancing protocols to be in place and want to be reassured that the locations where they’re staying and meeting are adhering to them.

Secondly, the pandemic has made teleconferencing the norm. Attendees have become more comfortable with that experience, and some may even prefer it–after all, it’s more convenient and less expensive than traveling. Coupled with the fact that there are still many people who don’t feel safe attending meetings in person, offering both options–to attend in-person and via teleconference–is a smart strategy. This hybrid offering is now part of a new normal that attendees both expect and appreciate.

Third, outdoor spaces are now preferable for meetings, so destinations with open-air offerings have a leg up. This goes for all gathering places, from facilities to after-hours venues. Being able to offer that fresh air is sure to increase attendance, help attendees feel safer and enjoy themselves more.

Lastly, now more than ever, events need to offer something new and unique. There needs to be a hook or some wow factor because there are still many people on the fence about attending in-person events. Moreover, events with experiences that are more effective in person, such as teambuilding excursions that build motivation and camaraderie in a way that teleconferencing can’t, are sure to lure more attendees and have a bigger impact.

Greater Fort Lauderdale offers an unrivaled meeting location with gorgeous beaches, a cosmopolitan waterfront downtown, 14,000+ hotel rooms and easy access through Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center is undergoing a stunning transformation with phase one set to open in late 2021. The center will feature 350,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, charming waterside views and an incentive of $10 million in free meeting space for qualifying events through 2024.


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First Steps for Determining the Value of Member Benefits

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Assessing the value of membership benefits isn’t always easily quantifiable. An association pricing expert offers advice on how to effectively measure their value—and reveals benefits that have become more popular recently.

If you’re considering offering tiered membership levels with varying value and pricing, what should you take into consideration? “Really look at your product landscape and what journey you want members to take,” said Michael Tatonetti, CAE, founder and CEO of Pricing for Associations.

For example, many membership professionals are wondering if they should bundle everything like annual conferences or educational products into one membership package, or if they should have a basic membership with a lot of à la carte options. It varies by organization, Tatonetti said, but it’s essential to look at what are your members are coming to you for and what they need. Then figure out how that makes sense as a membership package.

“It needs to be something that supports your members in a way that gives them a result, so they feel like it’s worth it to pay for membership,” he said.

Step one of assessing value is conducting data analysis. Analyze trends like what members are accessing, how frequently, and what the key performance indicators (KPIs) are for programs, products, and services. “Value is tangible through the voice of whoever the user is,” Tatonetti said. If it’s your sponsorship packages, it’s your sponsors. If it’s member-related, it’s your members. But value is not always quantitative. Although trickier to capture, qualitative results are also necessary to assess value.

That’s where market research like surveys and focus groups comes in. Ask members what their top three benefits are. Then ask what their number-one benefit is and—more specifically—how that top benefit helped them in the past year. Once you determine how they’re getting value, then assess whether it’s possible to increase or decrease the price of the benefit.

During the past year certain benefits have emerged as much more valuable offerings. Number one? “Getting timely information out, no matter what the method,” Tatonetti said, like newsletters, research and survey data, and webinars. Real-time online education is also in demand. “The more members can get that kind of content, the better,” he said. In addition, Tatonetti said networking, mentoring, and discussion boards have increased in popularity.

Internal data analysis, market research, and market testing matter a lot, he said. Right now, people are willing to tell you what they need and how they expect you to support them. “Get some data, get some science, and stick to what works, instead of grasping for the wind and hoping to find something that works,” he said.

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Membership Pro Tip: Simple Questions Equal Better Engagement

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Asking members surprisingly simple questions can help start conversations that build much more meaningful engagement, rather than bombarding them with an avalanche of information in the hopes of finding something that sticks.

Conversational engagement creates a two-way exchange that helps organizations get away from a broadcast-only mentality of jamming a lot of content in emails and talking at people. That kind of communication might lead to a few click-throughs, but that’s it, according to Dave Will, cofounder and CEO of software platform PropFuel.

A deeper, more focused conversation begins with easy questions that yield better and more personalized outcomes, he said during an express talk at ASAE’s Marketing, Membership, and Communications Conference last week.

How Does It Work?

Conversational engagement is a process that allows the membership team to listen and respond to members so they can better target individual member needs. “The process is: ask, capture, act,” Will said. “We ask a question and capture some input, which allows us to then take much more relevant action.” It not about talking to segments or personas: “We’re talking to a market of one,” he said.

Why Is It Effective?

One way it is effective is for reaching out to “never members” who have interacted with the association in the past but have never become members, said Diane Scheuring, CAE, co-presenter and vice president of membership and marketing at the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association.

“This is our opportunity to really reach out to them to start that conversation,” she said. “It’s all about engagement and being present at the member’s point of need.”

Scheuring’s team uses this prompt: “HPNA members are part of a larger mission dedicated to advancing expert care in serious illness,” which draws prospective members into HPNA’s mission. Then they pose a question: “Would you like to join us as part of this mission?” That approach makes it less transactional and more centered on asking if they would like to be a part of something larger.

What’s the Benefit?

Starting a conversation by emphasizing the organization’s mission demonstrates that joining is about more than just benefits or discounts. It’s about who you are as a person and whether you are interested in getting “emotionally connected to your industry,” Scheuring said.  By phrasing the conversational exchange that way, she said, “You’re planting the seed that by joining this association, you’re joining something bigger than a discount.”

Do you have a membership pro tip? Please share in the comments or send me an email.

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Good Reads You Might Have Missed: Decision-Making

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Should you rely on your gut, the data, or a combination of the two? That’s a question association leaders fret over—and these insights could help your organization make up its mind.

Association leaders have a lot to worry about on any given day, and many of those worries are focused on decisions.

Whether at the executive level, the board level, or even among individual staff, decisions remain a bedrock of what makes associations tick.

So how can you be sure you’re making the right call? These pieces might help lead you in the right direction:

‌Association Decision Making: A Path to Better Decisions. This 2017 magazine feature highlights the shift that the Association of American Medical Colleges made in its high-level decision making, building around a framework that encourages the organization to move more deliberately and with fewer surprises. “Our leadership team itself recognized the need for a different approach to both mitigate these surprises and make better decisions more quickly,” said Jennifer M. Schlener, AAMC’s chief of staff.

Three Expert Tips on Pandemic Decision-Making. This roundup of insights underlines the need for more cautious decisions amid the pandemic. “During a disease outbreak, vague guidance and ambivalent behavioral norms will lead to thoroughly flawed thinking,” University of Pennsylvania law and psychology professor Tess Wilkinson-Ryan explained.

How Diversity Leads to Stronger Leaders and Better Decisions. During ASAE’s 2020 Great Ideas conference, speakers Lior Zoref and Torin Perez made the case for building up stronger diversity within an organization to help strengthen decision making, rather than simply listening to the most engaged audiences. “Loyalty doesn’t produce the best idea; it’s having the people in the room who represent all backgrounds and perspectives and who are actually experiencing the problem you are looking to solve,” Zoref said.

Three Keys to Successful Use of Data in Decision Making. While data may not entirely drive a decision, it is becoming increasingly important—and as a result, understanding data mechanisms matters more than ever, wrote Virginia Graves of Association Analytics. “Looking ahead, it’s clear that data and analytics will continue to play an important role in achieving organizational outcomes,” Graves wrote. “Associations looking to set their staff up for success should continue to think about how they can foster a data culture within their organizations.”

Going Beyond Data in Decision Making. Data is often a major driver of decisions, but it still needs interpretation, said strategy and governance consultant Meredith Low, who makes the case that decision making needs to be more holistic. “The limitation is that you never have enough data,” Low stated. “You still have to overlay judgment, intuition, and preferences on top of data.”




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Ideas for Increasing Long-Term Member Retention

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Associations connected with members more thoughtfully and deliberately out of necessity during the recent period of isolation and uncertainty. A membership expert offers advice on ways to sustain those relationships by fostering more personal and responsive connections.

More than a year of instability has made the community and connections associations provide more compelling than ever. Giving members ways to connect—with each other and as part of an association—has never been as vital, along with a more personal, one-on-one approach. These are all key to member retention, said membership expert Scott Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates.

Oser, along with Dan Ratner, senior director of member services at FMI, The Food Industry Association, and Cynthia Simpson, M.Ed., CAE, administrative assistant at the Urgent Care Association, will be presenting at ASAE’s Marketing, Membership, and Communications Conference (MMCC) this week on long-term strategies to increase member retention. Here’s a preview.

Better Engagement

Giving examples of what’s working at their associations, Ratner and Simpson will talk about how to better engage members, starting with an effective onboarding process to properly welcome them and getting them involved from the beginning. They will also discuss facilitating smaller groups for members to connect and bringing them together in different ways, so they feel a true bond with the organization.

“The deeper the connection that your members feel, the more likely they are to renew,” Oser said. Because there is so much less in-person connectivity, he said engaging people online and providing a platform to bring those conversations together is proving to be “effective and important.”

While the onslaught of crises and challenges seem to have subsided for now, members are still looking to associations for guidance. One way to provide that is through more personal connection, Oser said. That one-to-one connection and engagement communicates that you are not only there for them, but that you also realize they have been struggling, things have changed, and you are their resource and partner.

“It’s about more than just generating revenue,” he said. It’s also about more than marketing, conference numbers, and paying dues on time.

Sustain Value

A positive trend that emerged in the past year is associations got a lot better at trying out new ideas without the usual testing and retesting that can take months. “It’s OK sometimes to take a bigger risk and really try new things without going through that formal process,” he said. That doesn’t mean it’s OK to throw caution to the wind, however.

“Associations learned that it is OK to change pieces of their messaging and their marketing programs,” he said. “You’ve got to hedge your bets a little.”

Another positive takeaway is that “associations are strong, and they do provide value,” Oser said. Many group saw increases in retention rates because they provided so much value for members even with higher unemployment, furloughs, and other challenges.

A recent survey conducted by Advanced Solutions International found that membership engagement increased for 49 percent of respondents and member retention was up or held steady for 57 percent of respondents. “They were sticking with their association membership because it was providing the right resources,” he said. Going forward, continuing to communicate value, and making sure that value is what members want, will be crucial.

“I’m definitely feeling optimistic about the future, and that recruitment and retention rates should stay strong,” Oser said.

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How to Create a “Set” for Virtual Meetings

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By investing in a professional remote setup, speakers can improve the virtual event experience for attendees (and themselves).

The pandemic may be retreating, but virtual and hybrid events are here to stay. So association pros who talk at these gatherings might want to create a home “set” to project the image they want—as opposed to the one conveyed by the messy backgrounds, poor lighting, and choppy audio that have marked many a presentation over the past year.

“I don’t think it’s as hard as people think to have a good setup,” says Josh Sundquist, a motivational speaker, author, and comedian with a long history of speaking on camera to a virtual audience on social media and YouTube.

While the pandemic gave us a glimpse into the home lives of our colleagues—and sparked conversations about work-life balance, as evidenced by guest appearances by kids, pets, and other family members—people who speak regularly may want to invest in a setup. And it is an investment. “The biggest piece of this is that it costs money,” Sundquist says. “It depends on how much money your association is giving you to spend, in my opinion.”

Want to present a more professional image at your next virtual speaking engagement? Consider these tips from Sundquist.

Down to the Wire

A recent technological trend has been wireless everything, from earbuds and speakers to keyboards and mice. But for speaking at a virtual event, Sundquist says to use as many wired devices as you can. Opt for:

  • An ethernet connection instead of Wi-Fi
  • A wired USB microphone instead of a radio frequency mic
  • Wired headphones, not Bluetooth, if you need to listen to audio during your presentation
  • A wired camera, as opposed to a Bluetooth webcam

Sundquist argues that using wireless devices increases the chances of technical hiccups during an event, as you’re completely reliant on wireless signals that could interfere with each other or disconnect. Plus, wired devices are generally considered to be of higher quality than their wireless counterparts.

Get a Microphone

A computer’s built-in microphone often produces quiet, fuzzy, or echoey audio, and may pick up background noise. When Sundquist is presenting, he says he uses a USB lavalier microphone that is wired into his computer and clips to his shirt.

“It’s inexpensive—it’s like $30 on Amazon—and it works great. It largely isolates the sound,” he says.

Use an External Camera

“For a Zoom meeting, your built-in webcam is entirely adequate. I would suggest that if you’re trying to hold an event, you upgrade from there,” Sundquist says.

Like built-in mics, built-in computer cameras have their limitations, often offering poor resolution. A budget-friendly step up would be an external webcam, which usually offers better video quality and the ability to adjust the camera angle.

But Sundquist warns that there’s a limit to how good a webcam’s video quality can be. If you want professional-grade video, look for more powerful (and expensive) equipment such as camcorders, DSLRs, or mirrorless cameras, which can be turned into high-end webcams by using software such as Sony’s Imaging Edge Webcam.

External cameras can be placed on a tripod and adjusted so you can get an ideal camera angle: slightly above eye level and pointing downward, thus avoiding the up-the-nose angle you’ve probably seen before.

Invest in Good Lighting

Lighting is one of the biggest challenges for virtual speakers. You can improve your lighting significantly with a couple of LED panel lights. Place them above your camera on each side, pointing down at you at a 45-degree angle. LED lights produce a flattering glow and can go for less than $50 depending on the model. If you have three light sources—and experience with professional lighting—you can follow the three-point lighting method for ideal positioning.

If you don’t have as much room, you can use smaller ring lights that clip onto your monitor. You can also use any natural light by arranging your setup so that you’re facing that light source.

Let Your Background Represent You

“I think background tells a story and people should be conscious of what that story is,” Sundquist says. “There’s nothing in particular that background should be other than something that you’ve thought about and decided you want to represent you or the meeting that you’re in.”

There’s room to express yourself, so long as your background isn’t messy, unprofessional, or inappropriate. You can’t go wrong with a practical background with a bookshelf or a wall with a few pictures behind you. Green screens are an option, but Sundquist says showcasing your real space is better, as the former is impersonal and may come across as low quality.

“It’s just going to look like a bad version of your weatherman,” he says. “Why not lean into the idea of, ‘I’m at my home office, let’s not pretend otherwise. And look at this fun room that I have.’”

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Membership Pro Tip: Year-Round Member Connection

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Getting staff involved in regularly fostering and sustaining member connections helps boost engagement and retention.

Giving members a feeling of belonging cannot always be achieved or quantified through onboarding or surveys. Sometimes it takes a more direct and consistent approach. FMI, The Food Industry Association, developed the “My FMI” program to make sure a staff member is in touch with member companies throughout the year.

How Does It Work?

When a member is quiet, Dan Ratner, senior director of member services at FMI, says he starts worrying. “If we haven’t heard from a company or we haven’t done anything to connect with them, then it’s most likely they’re at risk for leaving,” he says.

To keep the conversation going, FMI assigns staff as account managers for member companies based on existing relationships they have as subject matter experts, in advocacy, or other capacities. It is their job to check in on those member companies throughout the year to ask what they need, engage with them, and then circle back with the membership team.

Why Is It Effective?

A lot of organizations rely on their board to provide feedback about what’s going on with members, but you can’t rely on the board entirely. “We have to make that connection,” Ratner says. “You have to do the work to actually get them engaged.”

The personal connections pay off. “Right now, we only have a handful of members that have yet to pay their dues for the year,” he says.

What Is the Benefit?

Ratner and his team know what is happening with members, which can’t always be gleaned from quantitative or qualitative surveys. It also gives them a real-time gauge on where members are.

“We’re not going to sit back and wait to see what our retention rate is,” he says. By the time renewals come around, they will already have a good idea of who is going to renew or not.

Members like the one-on-one connection and having an assigned go-to person. The program also reinforces a principle of retention, which Ratner says is everyone’s responsibility. “It’s a way for everyone on staff to realize they have a stake in this,” he says.

Do you have a membership pro tip? Please share in the comments or send me an email.

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Five Ways to Connect With Colleagues—Without More Screen Time

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Employees battling Zoom fatigue? In an age of remote work already filled with screen time, there are still ways to bring coworkers together without a computer.

For the past year, organizations have worked to find new and creative ways to connect coworkers virtually. The primary solution has been video calls and virtual events, but professionals are getting enough screen time as it is during the workday—too much, in fact. According to a recent survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by OnePoll, on behalf of Foster Grant, the increase in screen time during the pandemic is leading to burnout.

So how can remote employees connect without adding to the burnout? Consider these ideas.

Start a Postcard Exchange

Almost all communication is virtual these days, so a physical, handwritten note can offer a refreshing way to communicate. If your employees are spread out across multiple locations, ask them to join a postcard exchange in which coworkers write postcards to one another. They take only a minute to write, and employees get to learn a little more about each other.

Concerned about employee privacy? You can organize a postcard exchange centrally through your HR department to keep home addresses hidden.

Create Something Together

Send staffers an easy-to-complete kit that results in a finished product—anything from coasters to fortune cookies to hot sauce. Employees can complete them on their own, then share their work in a group chat or on the next video call.

Make Actual Phone Calls

Part of what makes screen time draining is … the screen. One-on-one phone calls can bring the same connection, minus the impetus to “perform.” Although face-to-face communication is important, it can be draining in a virtual setting. Opt for one less video call by turning a regular meeting, such as a weekly check-in with your manager, into an audio-only call.

Send a Care Package

Organizations can connect with their employees by sending a physical care package with some goodies and a written message that lets them know that the organization appreciates their contributions during a turbulent time.

If you want employees to connect with each other more directly, treat care packages like a secret Santa exchange and assign a recipient to each employee, who then puts together his or her own custom box. Once all care packages are sent, schedule a call with all employees to reveal who sent each package.

Plan Activities Over the Phone

Employees can bring back the casual camaraderie of office life by reinstating some office traditions—this time, over the phone.

For example, two coworkers who used to enjoy the occasional walk together can set up a 10-minute call during which they go for separate walks at the same time and talk on the phone. It’s a simple way to mimic an impromptu stroll you might take with a coworker when stepping out of the office for coffee. For an added connection, you can both describe what you’re seeing outside as you walk.

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Returning to (Better Than) Normal

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How associations can capitalize on new trends to add value for members.

After a year of disruptions, seeing a gradual return to normal offers a welcome sense of relief. But it does pose a question: How can associations create more value for members during this period of transition and beyond?

The challenges of the past year have given us all new perspectives. We’re much more aware of the importance of staying connected, whether it’s via now-routine online meetings or in person. And the need to prepare professionally for whatever the future might bring is more apparent than ever.

To provide greater value for members, associations have an opportunity to recognize and respond to shifts in expectations and viewpoints. Some specific examples include:

  • Hosting hybrid events and meetings. Even as in-person events return, the convenience of attending events and meetings online is something people will continue to want. Associations that offer hybrid events with in-person and online attendance options will accommodate members’ specific budgets, schedules and health concerns.
  • Investing in training and certification programs. Training and certification rank consistently among the most important benefits to members. Now is a good time for associations to review their programs and find ways to offer training and certification opportunities beyond an annual event. For example, offering year-round learning opportunities, such as in-person, live-streamed, and on-demand educational sessions can accommodate members’ schedules, learning preferences, and educational and certification needs as they return to office environments.
  • Expanding career advancement resources. While many associations already connect members with job opportunities through online job boards, there’s an opportunity to provide even more value in this area. Providing career advancement resources, such as interview and resume writing tips, salary data, and outlooks for job growth can deliver greater value for members—especially as they make career decisions in a fluctuating economy.
  • Making ongoing networking easier. As associations begin to plan in-person networking events again, they also have the opportunity to capitalize on members’ new comfort levels with online interactions. For example, offering an online member community can provide networking benefits between in-person events.

As we step back into a familiar world, our industry has an opportunity to do more than just return to normal. By embracing the new perspectives we’ve all gained over the last year, associations can provide members greater value than ever before.

Community Brands is a purpose-driven company that delivers purpose-built solutions for nearly 120,000 leading associations, nonprofits, K-12 private schools and faith-based organizations worldwide to thrive and succeed in today’s fast-paced, evolving world. Our focus on accelerating innovation, fulfilling unmet needs and bringing to market modern technology solutions and engagement platforms helps power social impact, affect positive change and create opportunity. With Community Brands solutions and services, purpose-driven organizations better engage their members, donors, educators and volunteers; raise more money; effectively manage revenue; and provide professional development and insights to power their missions.


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Six Ideas for Upgrading Member Onboarding

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Welcome packets and emails can offer a good starting point for new members, but that may not be enough to keep them around. Here are some tips to help supercharge your member onboarding process.

When someone joins an association, they’re often looking for a path forward as a new member—a little help to find their way, a compass that they can follow.

Associations can offer that help—or they can be a little more passive and do something minimal.

But doing the minimum at the beginning might just cost them the chance of keeping that member around. A 2018 report from Dynamic Benchmarking and Kaiser Insights [PDF] found that associations that implemented an effective onboarding strategy were able to increase their member retention from 62 percent to 68 percent.

Plus, there are other benefits that come from stronger onboarding, including more usable feedback, more detailed information about members, cleaner member databases, and easier identification of potential volunteers.

“Immediate value received upon joining prompted a high level of life-long engagement,” the report stated.

In other words, a little TLC goes a long way. So what does that engagement look like? A few ideas for effective member onboarding upgrades:

1. Personalize early. Often, the first way that members interact with your organization is through some sort of welcome message. Problem is, personalization is desired but not always offered in member communications, according to research from Community Brands—just 18 percent of associations offer it. Welcome emails can be a great area for personalization, as it can help members feel heard. The hard part, as noted by YourMembership, is getting the next set of data to allow for further steps into personalization. A measured approach can help. “If you need new members to complete an online member community profile or set up their communications preferences, send them a specific email communication about that action,” the firm’s Michelle Schweitz explains.

2. Instead of an onboarding packet, consider drip marketing. Member welcome packets can be done well—Personify’s Wild Apricot has plenty of ideas on where to get started. But an email drip campaign can supply that information in a more careful manner over a longer period. Chamber of commerce expert Frank J. Kenny suggests that drip campaigns can replace onboarding packets entirely. “This way they get bite-size tips they can read quickly and start using immediately,” he writes.

3. Lean on your chapters—but not too hard. Chapters can be effective in building a new member base, as they can put a friendly face within proximity of a member and give a local spin to a national or global association. However, Billhighway’s Charlotte Muylaert warns that putting too much pressure on local chapters does not a good chapter strategy make. “You have membership expertise, but they know the day-in/day-out challenges of running a chapter,” she writes. “Instead, collaborate with components on your new member onboarding plan so it’s both practical and sustainable.”

4. Integrate your social strategy. It’s important when building your onboarding strategy to stretch beyond the inbox, as fundamental as it is. Sharing welcome messages for new members on social media is one thing—introducing them to a broader conversation is another entirely. Lia Zegeye, senior director of membership at the American Bus Association, told Associations Now last fall that she hosts onboarding webinars. During that effort, she highlights the organization’s social media platforms and encourages new members to engage—which has been particularly successful at driving members to the association’s Facebook presence.

5. Don’t drop off too quickly with your messaging. As MemberNova noted in a 2019 study, 95 percent of organizations send a welcome email, but just 8 percent continued to send messages beyond the second week—and 2 percent beyond the first month. In an article discussing the survey, author Divya Tandan notes that cutting off the messaging too soon could strand new members during an important time. “The first 90 days are the most crucial for a new member, because it’s during this month and a half that they are evaluating you, assessing the value membership to the association offers them and trying to familiarize themselves with all the resources made available to them,” she writes.

6. Offer special notice at events. It’s not just about driving messaging to the newbies, but giving special notice. As MemberSuite explains, it can help to direct some of that new member onboarding energy to first-time attendees as well—perhaps by creating dedicated first-time event pages, tip sheets, and signifiers that show others that this is an attendee’s first time at an event. “These first-time attendees aren’t likely to come back next time unless you make them feel welcome and help them get the most out of their event experience,” the firm’s Val Brotherton writes.


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