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group of people welcoming a new member

15 min read

Path to Renewal: Onboarding New Members

Tags: Member Engagement,Member Retention,Professional Associations,Trade Associations

Membership renewal shouldn't start with your 90-day expiration reminder - the path to renewal begins on day one.

If you’re only reminding your members of your value when you send them a renewal notice at the end of their membership period, it’s already too late. According to MGI’s research, “Associations with increases in membership over the past year begin their renewal process immediately after welcoming members.”

You have a multitude of touchpoints at which you should be showing members how much easier their life is with your association in the mix. Your very first chance to deliver value and jumpstart engagement is when you’re onboarding new members. Orienting your members to their membership (and having a strategy to follow up with them throughout the membership lifecycle) helps you ensure that they know how to make the most of their member benefits.

Taking a multichannel approach to member onboarding helps you make sure members are getting the message. Associations with renewal rates at or above 80% often provide a welcome kit, use an emailed new-member engagement campaign, and conduct live welcome calls or orientations. And associations that saw increases in their renewal rate over the past year are significantly more likely to send an invitation to join their online community.

Consider the following components when you onboard new members:

New Member Email Onboarding

Perhaps the most accessible tool for orienting new members is email. Guide your members through their membership with a welcome/onboarding campaign (ideally automated!). When crafting your member onboarding emails, think about:

How soon after purchasing membership do you want new members to hear from you and how often after that? You should schedule a welcome message immediately upon signup, and follow-up onboarding messages for several consecutive weeks after that. Consider automating regular check-ins throughout the membership lifecycle.

Woman looking at computer with "welcome" speech bubble

Make sure the content in your onboarding emails is clear and concise. It may be tempting to tell new members everything about their membership in one message, but that can lead to members feeling overwhelmed or tuning things out. Think about what they need to know right away, and what can wait for a later message.

woman following checklist of tasks on computer

Are there actions new members need to take in conjunction with their onboarding? Maybe you want them sign into the member community, watch a walkthrough of your resource library, or fill out their member profile so you know their interests for future outreach. Think about the ideal path for new members and guide them through it.

computer screen with "create profile" page

Tell new members who they can reach out to for help. Think about adding a personal touch by including an email in your onboarding campaign that’s styled “from” your membership manager, asking them if they need anything (bonus: they might tell you where they’re getting stuck, which could help you identify areas for improvement).

Support staff answering the phone

Seek feedback from new members early and often. You’re in a much better position to course-correct if you know a member is unhappy before they decide membership isn’t worth it. When asking for feedback, ask in a way that empowers you to act on that feedback (and avoid questions about things you can’t change).

Two people reviewing feedback

New Member Webpage

Another helpful member onboarding strategy is to create a new member toolkit. Having one comprehensive place where you can send new members to learn more about their membership not only helps you streamline your onboarding emails (because you can send members to the webpage for more detail), it also helps you easily direct members who have questions.

Your new member webpage might include:

  • Instructions for how they can access their member profile or account, to check on their membership period, demographic information, interest settings, and more
  • A call to sign into your member communities
  • Guidance on where they can find, or how they can use their member benefits (like discounts, resource libraries, member directories and more)
  • A link to your event calendar, where they can stay up to date on your upcoming events
  • Walkthrough videos for any processes that might take a more in-depth tutorial
  • Instructions for how to allow-list your IP address(es) to ensure they receive important email communications (like member newsletters, membership renewal reminders, and more)

New Member Community Onboarding

Automation, Personalization, and Gamification

Your online community helps get new members engaged and engagement is the key to helping your association’s value-proposition stick. New members who are more involved in your membership community with their peers are more likely to think of your association as their professional home and a resource they can’t do without.

Member onboarding should drive new members to your community and incentivize them to get more involved while they’re there. Member experience and community platforms, like Higher Logic Thrive, provide tools that help you act on member behavior and data:

Use community automation rules to send a welcome message to new members, send reminders to log in, or filter members into particular groups based on data you have about their interests.
Use a “profile completeness” highlight on your community homepage to encourage members to fill in their information. Celebrate new members with a New Member badge to encourage long-time members to help welcome them. Gamification helps build long-term engagement.
Use community security rules, which allow you to make certain blocks of content visible only to specific subsets of your online community, to include a new-member welcome block on your community homepage – perhaps pointing to your New Member Webpage.

New Member Walkthroughs & Webinars

Some things are just easier to explain verbally or with visuals than they are in text, so don’t be afraid to leverage video and live events to help orient members.


Offer a quarterly new-member onboarding webinar to walk members through their benefits. Offering a regular, recurring event not only helps you reduce the amount of staff time you have to dedicate to individual onboarding, it also has the added benefit of introducing your new members to your staff and other newbies to help them feel more connected.


Consider creating screen-share tutorials of any member benefits that are hard to explain. Though your goal should be to make your benefits and resources as intuitive as possible, sometimes new members will still need a helping hand.

Tracking New Member Behavior

In addition to seeking feedback from members via surveys, polls, or email, you should also codify a process to check your metrics to see what new members are doing. Tools in Higher Logic Thrive can help you do this. For example:

  • Keep an eye on the email open, click and unsubscribe rates for your new member onboarding campaign to see how many members are tuning in vs. tuning out
  • Decide your specific signs of engagement and use Engagement Scoring in Higher Logic Thrive Marketing to track member engagement
  • In addition to monitoring general traffic on your new member webpage, you can use the web tracking tool in Higher Logic Thrive Marketing to track which specific members have visited which pages
  • Periodically review the community engagement of your new members:
  • Monitor whether new members have agreed to the terms in the community as a way to see if they’ve logged in
  • Look at pending invitations

Based on what you’re seeing and the data you’re tracking, you could even customize and/or automate follow-up to your members to make sure they’re making the most of their membership (e.g. set up a reminder for new members who haven’t logged into the community, highlighting some threads they won’t want to miss).

The First Step Toward Renewal

Onboarding members well is the first crucial step to ensuring that they recognize the value of their membership and will want to renew when it comes time. You want incoming members to understand and use their membership to their full advantage – which means guiding them through their benefits in manageable bites and having check-ins along the way, so you’re poised to address confusion.

Monitoring new member behavior can also help you identify strategies that work best for your members. The more you understand your members and create clear avenues for them to connect with your association, the better equipped you are to spark excitement and create a lasting engagement.

Tools that Make Member Retention Easy

Higher Logic Thrive is an all-in-one member engagement platform built on almost two decades of experience with and feedback from associations. It can help you save time, improve your member experience, and keep members coming back.