How should our association conduct new member orientation?

Getting new members involved is critical to helping them feel part of the association. It’s also an important factor that will influence their decision to renew their association membership.

Associations have offered new member orientations for many years – it’s not a new concept. Typically, the new member orientation will take the form of a meeting as part of a group of new members. Another variation is assigning a guide or mentor to the new member to give the member an overview of an association and a friendly face when they attend their first association event. Yet another common variation is to send the new member an association welcome/orientation kit.

Each of these approaches can help the new member to feel part of the association, but each has its drawbacks. The group meeting requires just that – going to a meeting. And it is typically only feasible for associations that are regional or have chapters. Assigning another association member as a mentor or guide can be excellent – or not so excellent – it depends heavily upon the assigned guide. Sending an association welcome kit via mail is convenient for the member, and very consistent in its message – but it cannot respond to the individualized needs of each association member.

The use of your association web site may be a promising alternative to all of the above approaches. By using the association web site, you can provide the orientation in a way that is convenient to the member, consistent in its quality, and tailored to the individual needs of the new association member.

The convenience and consistency aspects of the web-based approach are probably obvious. However, as a bonus, you can also use web-based association orientation to respond to the individual needs of the new member.

The concept behind the individualization of the web-based association orientation is fairly simple: make the program change its presentation based on feedback from the member. The challenge lies in the execution.

There are at least two ways for the web-based association orientation to respond to the feedback:

  • The first is fairly inexpensive: use HTML links that lead the new association member in different paths based on the answers given to questions asked during the orientation. For example, a question may be asked as to whether they are interested in volunteering on an association committee. If they answer “yes,” they may be taken directly to the list of committees; if they answer “no,” they might be taken to a page that reinforces the benefits of volunteering (because engaged members tend to be happy members who renew), and told that if they are interested in the future, there is a page in the members only area that lists volunteer opportunities. Or the member may be immediately taken to a page that lists non-committee-based volunteer opportunities.
  • The other approach is very similar from a conceptual standpoint, but more personalized and more useful for the association. That approach is to use the association database and online programming to address the person by name and walk them through the orientation process. Importantly, the orientation program would record the responses given by the new member so that the association could act upon that feedback later. For example, if the new member does not want to volunteer for a committee at this time, but you noticed that they read the committee descriptions for the marketing and public relations committees, you might plan to have the chairs of those association committees contact the member in six months to see if they are interested at that time.

There are many other ways that a web-based association orientation program can be programmed to respond to the needs of the member – and record their responses so the association can better meet their needs in the future. In doing so, the web-based program can provide the best hybrid approach of all orientation methods, making for happier members that are more likely to renew.

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