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Team member improving member retention
August 1, 2017

How to Improve First-Year Member Retention

Retention is important to your growth and sustainability. Use these steps to increase first-year member retention rates.

Retention is king. It’s vital to growth and sustainability as well as the success of new member acquisition campaigns. Because how valuable are new members if they stay for just one year?

That’s what many new association members do. They join, pay their dues, and drop their membership a year later. For some associations, first-year members account for more than 70 percent of attrition. That’s a big hit to your growth strategy.

To help your association grow and make acquisition campaigns valuable, you can’t just motivate new members to join. You also need to convince them to stay.

Interested in learning more about member retention after the first year? Check out our guide to member retention.

5 Steps to Increase New Member Retention

Getting new members to renew is all about improving the first-year member experience and giving them a clear return on investment for their dues. You need to keep in touch, reach out early and often, and find out what the members like—then do more of it.

Here are five practical steps we have found can improve first-year member retention rates.

1. Create a Personalized, Multi-Touch Onboarding Program

Kick off your onboarding program with a welcome email as soon as someone joins your association. Start with a sincere ‘thank you’ and follow up with essential information. Then, over weeks or months, expose new members to an email drip campaign that helps them learn about your association, its benefits, and how they can start participating.

Personalize these emails by using your members’ first names and include progressive calls-to-action (CTAs). At first, each call-to-action should prompt members to complete a simple activity, like resetting their password, logging into your online community, or completing their member profile. As members complete these tasks, you can prompt them to do larger engagement activities, like asking or answering questions in discussion forums.

In addition to your email campaign, try giving new members a call in their first week with your association. A phone call adds a human touch to your onboarding campaign and gives you a chance to personally welcome new members. On the call, take time to listen as well, learning why your new member joined and what they hope to get from your association. Use that information to recommend the content and benefits that will help them achieve their goals.

2. Connect New Members with Local Chapters and Events

Your association can (and should) connect members throughout the country or world, but don’t underestimate the power of local connections. Close-knit local communities can have a major impact on retention.

Help new members find their local chapters so they can connect with peers and experts in their area. If there are any in-person welcome events, chapter meetings, or informal group get-togethers, make sure new members are invited. The easier it is for them to build relationships through your association, the more value they’ll get from their membership – and the more likely they are to renew.

3. Collect (and Use) Data

Once members start participating with your association, they’ll start generating online activity data. Every action members take in your online community, volunteer opportunity they log, or event they register for will be recorded, giving you data on what appeals to first-year members.

Are new members participating in your learning management system? Are they leaving great reviews for your online mentoring program?

Use the data on how members are participating to identify the content and benefits they find most valuable. Create more of that content and use what you’ve learned to provide personalized suggestions about other benefits that members may enjoy. Online learning, job boards, blog posts, and volunteering positions are all recommendations that provide more value for members and encourage more participation.

4. Reach Out Regularly

Proactively check in with new members every three to six months via phone or email. Ask how things are going and collect feedback on what new members are enjoying as well as how you can improve. Use that information to adjust your member engagement strategy to better fit their needs. You can also use check-ins to stimulate participation by asking members to volunteer or refer a friend, or by ensuring members know about the full array of benefits you offer.

Another way to check in is to send a first-year member survey between 250 days and 300 days after new members join your association. The survey helps you collect and use data, including direct feedback, so you can improve your programs. It also gets members involved and makes them feel they have a say in your association. And, by sending the survey out before renewals roll around, you’ll have time to correct any problems and hopefully retain struggling members.

Bonus Tip: Don’t just talk to your members at predetermined intervals. Make an effort to connect with new members before, during, or after trigger events as well. Trigger events, or events that significantly change your members’ lives or careers, might include industry shifts like new legislation or personal changes like your member moving across the country. Reach out to members during trigger events to ensure that they know about association resources that can help them adjust to changes.

5. Call First-Year Members at Renewal Time and Reward Loyalty

Go above and beyond best practices – like including renewal CTAs in your online community or sending email reminders – by giving your members a call when renewals come up. Use the call as an opportunity to discuss your member’s first-year experience and encourage them to renew.

When done well, renewal phone calls can be incredibly effective. The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM), profiled in Associations Now, motivated 40 percent of their first-year members to renew on or shortly after a reminder phone call.

But regardless of whether members renew via phone or not, remember to show your appreciation for everyone who sticks with you. Send a handwritten thank you card, invite members to join a committee or advisory council, or ask them to share their expertise with next year’s new members, helping them get the most out of their membership. You can also give first-year renewals some free extras, like an upgraded membership or a discount to your annual conference.

However you choose to promote your renewals, be sure to make your first-year members feel special. Their renewal is a vital ingredient to sustainable membership growth.

Provide a Great Experience for New Members

Unfortunately, perfect retention rates don’t exist – especially for new members. You’ll always lose members who change industries, move out of the country, or simply don’t respond to your engagement tactics.

With the right onboarding and renewal efforts, however, you can make those members a minority. Use these steps as a starting point and consistently adjust your approach based on member feedback and engagement data. Focus on providing the best experience possible, with personalized content, services, and attention. That will help you shape your new members’ opinions, increasing first-year member retention and growing your association as a whole.

Julie Dietz

Julie is a Content Manager & Strategist at Epic Notion. In her past life, she worked her way through Europe and Asia as a freelance writer, editor and English teacher for local and international businesses.