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Welcoming new members into an association is exciting! Their new ideas, enthusiasm and fresh approaches add a lot to the vitality and dynamism of an organization. When it comes to welcoming new members, one of our first priorities as association professionals is to make sure they feel engaged and encouraged to participate in ways that are meaningful to them. To accomplish this, it is important to get to know new members and to take the time to understand their backgrounds, experiences and values and then use that knowledge to help them personalize a membership experience that works for them.

It is also important to develop a new-member onboarding process that is both dynamic and effective. To enhance our already robust new-member onboarding process, I have recently been developing a series of automated emails to send to new members during the first few months of membership. This project is still in the development stage – we have yet to implement the emails. But I wanted to share my approach.

My first step was to evaluate our entire process and how the new email sequence would fit into that process. After all, our new emails are intended to complement and enhance our existing welcome messaging. To evaluate whether the email sequence would accomplish this goal, I asked myself some basic questions: Would adding this component improve the effectiveness of our communications with new members? Would reaching out to new members in this way help them feel involved in the association and welcomed? Do the new communications reinforce our intended messages without being redundant?

Once I had determined that the new email sequence would provide value to our process, I turned my attention to the substance of our messages. When I began composing the emails I decided to work with content we already use in existing new member communication. This serves dual purposes – it saves time by not requiring us to draft messages from scratch and, more importantly, it reinforces the messaging we already have. Since we know the topics highlighted in our existing messages are of interest to new members, the emails provide an opportunity to present the information in a fresh way. We have added a bit of new content and tried to customize some of our messaging to specific membership categories. However, the bulk of our email content mirrors existing messaging. My hope is that by introducing members to certain topics in multiple formats (such as an email and then a mail piece) they’ll be more likely to take notice of and act on the information being shared.

With our messaging in place my current area of focus is implementation. I am very conscious that our members are busy working professionals with their own hectic schedules. Since we are establishing an automated sequence of emails, my primary consideration is setting up the system in a way that avoids potentially inundating members with too much too soon. We want the emails to be spaced so that they capitalize on a new member’s enthusiasm, while allowing them enough time to take in the information being presented. Emails sent too close together might overwhelm the member. However, spacing the emails too far apart runs the risk of the messages getting buried in a busy inbox.

I am thinking very carefully about the best approach to sending these emails. One idea I’ve had is setting up each email in the sequence to be sent based on action taken from the previous email. For example, our first email encourages new members to visit a certain online community and they receive the second email only after they have visited that community. Whatever the implementation approach ends up looking like, I will be paying close attention to member feedback and adjusting as needed over time.

What are your experiences with new member onboarding? Have you worked with automated email sequences or other automation tools? I would certainly welcome your thoughts or advice!

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renewal call

Each client association has its own specific goals for member retention, but we like to keep ours in the 85-90% range. Below are some of the processes I use to make sure we hit these goals annually and in an efficient manner.

Keep track, and don’t reinvent the wheel. 
For each of our clients, I make a yearly table to keep track of when a reminder was sent, how many open invoices there were when the reminder was sent, and how many members renewed after that reminder (our clients’ AMS – or association management systems – make pulling reports like this quick and easy). This allows me to have a good picture year after year of what types of reminders get the most attention, as well as what timing seems to be best for each organization. I use this information to plan for the current year. If a specific method or text prompted a higher response rate, I’ll make sure to include something similar this year.

Plan for multiple mediums
We really try to be green here and utilize digital communications for the first month or so of a renewal campaign. This allows the open renewals to dwindle down a bit before we actually need to send a paper invoice. That said, I cannot tell you how often I hear “I was surprised to get this invoice in the mail – I had no idea my membership expired!” Sometimes seven email reminders just go under the radar. My point is that our membership bases are diverse and not everyone receives information the same way. For this reason, I ensure that our campaigns include a mix of email, social media, print, and even phone calls.

This year, we are also utilizing the Higher Logic platform on which some of our client websites are based. Higher Logic integrates with the member database and instantly notifies members at log-in when their membership expires and gives them a simple way to click and pay. Once the renewal is paid, this notification disappears.

HL member renewal

 

Make a schedule, but be flexible
As I discussed, I keep track of renewal campaigns annually so I can see when reminders were sent. I use this data to plan for the current year, shifting dates around based on holidays or other important messages going out for each client. That said, these dates are not set in stone. If renewal payments just do not seem to be coming in based on email reminders, I might move up the date that I send out paper invoices. I continuously adjust the plan based on how each client is performing.

Involve the Board (or a membership committee)
This step is vital. As association staff, we can only remind a member of their benefits so much. Board members can share experiences of exactly how the membership or a connection they made through the organization has improved their businesses or their careers. Last year, the past chair of one of our associations had a lengthy email exchange with a member who was on the fence about renewing — they had not had the time to commit to really be “plugged in” with the organization and therefore had not seen the value. The past chair shared a story of how he had seen his business quintuple in size over the past ten years, attributing it to relationships he had developed through the organization.

I cannot stress enough how much of an impact this can have, so I try to make it as easy as possible for volunteers by never giving them more than ten names to call, providing both phone and email contact information, and giving them a summary of the communications I’ve had with the members so far.

Teamwork!
Make sure that everyone on the client team is aware that the renewals are ready. The “front line” office staff can help a member renew over the phone without being passed to a membership coordinator. The meeting planners can remind vendor members about their renewal while discussing their exhibit space for the coming year. Our marketing staff make sure to include reminders in newsletters and social media. I share the master “renewal calendar” so that the whole office is aware of the plan for each client.

Membership renewals are a big deal for associations – after all, members are the “lifeblood” of associations. They are why we do what we do! It’s important to keep track, have a plan, and involve multiple parties to reach members and remind them why their association is so great!

 

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member benefits II

Why should I join [input name of your organization here]?

I used to fear this question. Not because I didn’t know, but because I never took the time to put together a clear and concise list of the benefits of membership. Even though I’ve been with the National Air Filtration Association (NAFA) for 10+ years, this question could make me freeze in my tracks.

After working with AMPED for a few months, they suggested I put together a list of benefits – why had I never thought of this before? At first it was a little intimidating, I could only think of three or four reasons that had been clearly defined. However, when I sat down and brainstormed (and peeked at other organizations’ lists of benefits) I realized just how much NAFA had to offer!

Go through your certifications, publications, member’s access, affiliate associations and by-laws. Look at every program in your association and realize the magnitude of benefits. Use this list while on the phone, with email and through U.S. mail. You will look like the expert you are in no time. Now I can confidently state why you should join NAFA.

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love your volunteers

Associations rely heavily on volunteer members, many of whom do much of the work of moving the organization forward. That’s why it’s so important to recognize their efforts and keep their enthusiasm high.

The National Air Filtration Association (NAFA), a client partner of AMPED - Association Management Partners & Executive Directors, is comprised of dedicated individuals with years of experience — experience they are willing to share with other air filtration professionals. It is not a difficult endeavor to solicit volunteers within NAFA. Most are willing to dedicate their time to work on projects both large and small. Having such wonderful people within your organization is a blessing, but it is vital to appreciate their hard work every way you can.

  1. Recognize the volunteer at every opportunity. Thank them publically at conferences; give them plaques or tangible items that remind them how important they are to the organization. Use Facebook or Twitter to post updates with photos of the volunteers in action.
  2. Keep in close touch. Check in with the volunteers occasionally. Ask for their suggestions and feedback to show them how important their participation and opinion is to the group’s overall wellbeing.
  3. Refer technical questions to them. Rely on their expertise. When a technical question arises, seek them out for their knowhow. This will show them you recognize their authority, and gives them the opportunity to promote their businesses.
  4. Document their efforts in print. Periodicals, publications and newsletters offer the opportunity to recognize their work and publicize committee efforts.
  5. Don’t forget the volunteer’s employer. Be sure to include the employer’s name when recognizing the volunteer. Businesses sacrifice a lot in order to allow employees to attend conferences, work on committees and share their time. A way to recognize this and get the support of the employer is to always include the name of the volunteer’s company.
  6. Be sure to include their designations/certifications. NAFA has a certification program and the designation is always included when mentioning an individual. Not only does it help promote the program, it demonstrates the importance and value you place on the certification.

Most important of all, thank your volunteers. Send them a thank you card or call them personally. In the age of email and social media, the handwritten letter is a novelty. Personalize the note or call to thank them for a specific task they did during their time volunteering.

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Network seedlings
I heard someone say in a presentation recently, “Don’t let technology rule you. Be a champion of personal relationships.” As an association manager, I do exactly that – pick up the phone and meet face-to-face as often as I can to grow relationships and, in turn, my association clients through personal contact and real connections. This face-to-face time with our clients and members is the foundation that our associations were built on and it benefits us all both professionally and personally.

I’ve seen the power of these connections first-hand with one of my clients. A year ago I invited a woman who was a long-time member, but not very involved, to be the subject of an executive profile in the association’s magazine. The profile led to a face-to-face meeting about a program that her organization offered and an additional article in the magazine. She then agreed to serve on a panel at our annual meeting and, there, met a contact from a large organization. That contact led to an opportunity to meet with them about one of her organization’s programs and now they’re working on a future collaboration. It’s the perfect example of how a small outreach can lead to bigger things and turn a checkbook member into an engaged and happy one!

Here are some quick ways to make personal connections.

Pick up the phone. With all of the ways to contact people these days, we often neglect to pick up the phone and actually make a call. Sure, you may get voice mail, but even that counts.

Handwrite a note. In the age of email and the multitude of other ways to contact people, the art of the personal handwritten note may seem outdated. However, people appreciate when you spend a few extra minutes to write a note. On more than one occasion, I’ve received a handwritten thank you in response to my note!

Visit members. Making an appointment for a quick visit with a member is a wonderful way to make that personal connection, get feedback on your association’s offerings and learn what else you can do to assist your members. If it’s not possible to visit your members due to geographic or financial constraints, see if they’d be willing to Skype.

Make a personal ask. The next time you’re looking for volunteers to serve on a committee, participate in a panel discussion or write a blog or article, reach out personally as opposed to sending a blanket call for volunteers. People will love that you recognize they have a talent you’re interested in utilizing and appreciate that you are taking the time to personally invite them to participate.

I challenge you to start connecting by making one phone call, writing one letter and asking one person to participate in your organization at a more engaged level this week. I promise you’ll be glad you did!

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