Scaling Member Engagement

prioritize tactics differently

IT IS ALL fine and good to spend 10, 15, or 30 minutes with each new member on the phone when a few members join every week. But what do you do when there are hundreds, even thousands?

In this episode of ‘Ask Amanda,’ Erica asks Amanda:

We have more than 150,000 members. Any advice on how to engage or onboard new members on a large scale?

This is another excellent question! Associations are so varied that one size does not fit all. Sometimes, people ask me, “What does an optimal new member onboarding program look like?” My answer: “That depends.” Research shows that small associations onboard very differently than large ones. Locals are different than globals. Trade and professional have some overlap but still prioritize tactics differently.

So how does new member engagement scale?

Here’s an excerpt from the most recent New Member Engagement Study Report1 that I conducted with Dynamic Benchmarking:

[Fifty percent] of large associations extend their new member engagement process up to 10-12 months, much longer than their smaller colleagues. These large, 50+ staff associations send a welcome email and a new member-specific monthly email series, use their online community to engage new members, welcome kits and surveys, and tend to rely on their chapters and special interest groups to onboard new members. Large associations most want to try to incorporate videos and new member ambassador programs into their new member onboarding programs.

Okay, so that’s a view of the tactics used, but you still might be wondering, how do we make sure each member gets a warm welcome, feels a sense of community, and finds the resources they uniquely need? How do we help each member feel not like they joined with 1,000 other people but like they are the only ones who joined today? I’m so glad you asked because I’ve been thinking a lot about scale lately!

Email scales, but here’s the thing: it is a tool that has to be employed very carefully. New members decide to keep reading or ignore an association’s emails after they’ve read the first three emails. You read that right – usually, between emails #3 and #4, new members will unconsciously say to themselves something like, “Wow, I’ve got so many emails to read every day. Are emails from this organization worth my time/essential/helpful/make me happy?”

So, we want to make every email count. Ideally, a new member drip campaign at a medium to large-sized association will consist of many short, value-packed, and perhaps fun, happy, sympathetic (pick your adjective here) emails – you can see how the research defines “many” in my earlier article on email campaigns for new members2 (that has gone mini-viral). A client called her drip campaign “snackable content,” light, fun, but satisfying bits of happiness to add to her member’s workday.

Here’s a pro tip: you can help each new member feel like you are talking to them with something called conversational engagement, which is precisely what PropFuel delivers3. You can ask members questions, and they choose answers that deliver them right to what they need. For example, you could ask them, “What do you hope to get from your membership?” Perhaps the selections to choose from are “certification,” “stay current on the latest technology,” or “understand the new government regulations,” etc. Let’s say a member selects “certification.” Propfuel leaps into action, perhaps asking them when they want to get certified and writes the answers back to the AMS so an email follow-up can reach them at just the right time and opens a webpage so they can get a bit more information about certification.

Whether you use PropFuel or not, brevity and tone are key to unignorable emails. Focus on what you want them to know and how you want them to feel as they read your email. The big idea behind tone is that experiences drive emotions, and emotions make the experiences memorable4.

Email is just one scalable new member onboarding tactic.

Another way to ensure each member gets a lovely, warm welcome? Well, one way to do that is by having members welcoming members.

In the New Member Engagement Study, we found that more associations were considering starting New Member Ambassador programs. These programs can train and charge existing members to help with onboarding.

Large associations also focus on that personal touch by helping their chapters, affiliates, and committees onboard new members. Many associations with large member bases still have small staff teams, so arm volunteer leaders with the knowledge and tactics to offer those warm welcomes.

Large associations can also disperse onboarding duties throughout the staff. In the benchmarking research, we see that onboarding is not the sole responsibility of the membership department. Onboarding occurs in large association’s online communities and at virtual and in-person events. I bet there are also examples of onboarding in editorial, research, advocacy, and other departments throughout associations.

In an interesting article about the video platform Loom5, an idea caught my eye: “Community wasn’t just the job of the customer service or marketing teams; it was up to anyone and everyone to respond to customer feedback or product issues.” In the same way, large associations may have more new member onboarding success by making onboarding the goal for every department, every committee, and every sub-group – every staff member and every member.

New members are critical to each member community’s success. New members are also one of the most fragile member sub-segments, but the good news is that we have many opportunities to help smooth the path toward engagement. Have you got a lot of new members? Get many welcomers to help you.

amanda lea kaiser

Amanda Lea Kaiser is a keynote speaker and author of Elevating Engagement: Uncommon Strategies for Creating a Thriving Member Community, which you can find in online bookstores worldwide. Through her research, Amanda is at the forefront of exploring how member and attendee engagement is rapidly changing within professional communities. You can find Amanda at


1. New Member Engagement Study Report. Dynamic Benchmarking and Kaiser Insights, LLC.
2. “Too Many New Member Emails?” Amanda Lea Kaiser.
3. Conversational Engagement Ebook. PropFuel.
4. “Great Communication Focuses on Experience.” Amanda Lea Kaiser.
5. “Looming Larger.” Customer-ization newsletter, October 19, 2023.

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