Because members may join your membership program for a slew of reasons, you won’t always know or have control over what attracted them to your program in particular. There’s not much you can do to only attract members who intend to renew year after year and truly commit themselves to your mission.
Members may join — and decide to stay with — your membership program for a slew of reasons. While it would be great if all your members joined with the intent to renew year after year, the truth is that you need to start thinking about how to retain new members from the moment they join your membership program.
Delivering a great first impression is a giant step toward greater greater member participation, widespread member satisfaction, and higher retention rates. Welcome members to your program by demonstrating all the ways that their membership provides them with personal benefits as well as the way their membership supports your organization’s mission. Communicating the value of their membership from the moment they join can increase membership renewal later on.
To get you started, here are seven of the most effective ways to give a great first impression that will boost your member retention rate:
- Send a new member welcome letter.
- Deliver free gifts to new members.
- Send new members a benefit-packed membership card.
- Supply guest passes to new members.
- Offer a new member discount.
- Lead a new member tour.
- Host a new member event.
Some of these strategies are more practical for organizations with a high volume of new memberships, while others may be more appropriate for smaller groups.
1. Send a new member welcome letter.
The right membership management software solution will automatically send a confirmation email to new members after they submit their application materials and payment information. This email should thank the member for signing up and send them a receipt for their membership purchase.
After the initial confirmation notice, the first communication your organization sends to its new members needs to count! Following up emphasizes that membership is about more than paying a membership fee.
The established best practice is to send a welcome packet in the mail with:
- A longer welcome letter — signed by hand is best!
- A list of membership benefits.
- A membership card.
Some organizations might want to send an electronic welcome packet instead of a physical one. Going digital can save your organization both environmental and shipping costs! You can send all the materials you need through email, including a link to print-at-home or mobile membership cards.
However you send your welcome packet, make sure it’s delivered promptly to show your new member that you’re just as enthusiastic about their membership as they are. An emailed welcome packet can be dispatched automatically at the same time as the confirmation email, while a physical package will take longer to arrive.
2. Deliver free gifts to new members.
Another great way to get your members excited about their new membership from the get-go is to send them some free gifts.
You could include these items with a mailed welcome packet, or you could wait a few weeks. Waiting to deliver free gifts gives you a second chance to remind your members about your program.
Whichever items you choose, make sure that they’re branded. New members want to show off their membership, and you get free advertising every time someone sees the sticker.
Some of the best gifts to send to your new members are low-cost items that your members will actually use, which keeps your organization on their mind every time they see the logo:
- Water bottles
You can also consider sending your new members a certificate that they can redeem for a free gift the next time they visit your facility. Paper and electronic coupons are much less expensive to send than gift packages, and you can encourage your members to visit by enticing them with redeeming your gift!
If you’re looking for ways to fit these gifts into your membership program’s budget, consider reaching out to a corporate sponsor. They might be interested in helping out with (or taking care of!) the production costs if you include their logo on the items you send to new members.
3. Send new members a benefit-packed membership card.
Membership cards give your members a sense of belonging and help them see your membership program as an opportunity for community engagement as well as a means of getting discounts and other benefits.
But they’re not just for your members — you can gather valuable data about member behavior when your members use their cards onsite and online, at your site or at a partner organization’s. Make sure your admissions system and online sales and checkout solution can recognize a membership ID and apply the benefits to any kind of purchase.
When designing your membership card, you’ll need to include some or all of these items:
- Branding, including your organization’s logo and contact information
- Member’s information, including their name, ID number, and membership expiration date
- Scanning capability, using either a bar code or QR code
- Other member’s names,so spouses, partners, and families are all identified on the card
If you decide to send a physical membership card to your new members, consider something sturdier than regular paper. Thicker card stock, lamination, or plastic create high-quality, durable membership cards that are easy to slide in and out of a wallet without wrinkling, folding or breaking.
Even if your organization issues physical membership cards, you should also provide instructions to download a print-at-home membership card or a mobile membership card. Replacing a card can be inconvenient and time-consuming — your members will appreciate having easy electronic options if they leave their membership card at home or lose it.
4. Supply guest passes to new members.
Sometimes, people buy memberships on a whim, or to take advantage of a specific benefit. Plus, many of your new members will have received gift memberships, especially around the holidays. As a result, many new members might not engage with your organization as frequently as you’d prefer.
To encourage new members to visit and take advantage of their benefits, include some guest passes in the welcome packet. Members who might not visit on their own are likely to visit more often if they can bring friends and family members.
An additional benefit of guest passes is the opportunity to expand participation in your membership program. When nonmembers experience the tangible benefits of membership, they may be more likely to purchase a membership of their own.
If you decide to offer guest passes, you’ll want to track their usage. Keep a close eye on guest pass usage and, if possible, take down the names and contact information of your members’ guests so you can reach out to them with an invitation to purchase their own memberships.
You might also consider a discount or rewards program for current members whose guests purchase memberships. One way to track this information is to collect referral information during the membership purchase. The right museum membership management software, integrated with your ticketing and admissions system, can track this information, manage incentives, and store all your data in a single integrated system where it’s available for analytics.
5. Offer a new member discount.
Many visitor-serving organizations see a huge increase in membership signups during popular program registration times, especially in late winter and spring when visitors are signing their children up for summer programs. Why? Because many members joined to take advantage of a discount on registration!
Special discounts can be a strong motivator for membership, but you have to make sure your new members can take advantage of them immediately. Invest in membership management software that can add a membership during registration and apply the appropriate membership discount to the same purchase.
Once you have the infrastructure in place, you can decide what kind of discounts you’ll offer your members. You might consider the following areas:
- Admission: Offer members discounted admission to programs, exhibits, and experiences that come with additional admission costs, like IMAX tickets or special exhibits. You can also offer a discount on general admission for guests of members.
- Concessions: If your site has a café or snack bar, you can give members a discount on purchases, and give new members a free drink or cookie on their first visit.
- Gift shop: Provide members with a standard percentage discount on purchases, both online and at your location.
If you’re offering different levels of membership, like most member-based organizations, consider assigning different discounts for each level of membership. The more the membership costs, the higher discount you should offer. offer. Your membership management software should be able to automatically apply the correct discounts and incentives based on the membership level.
6. Lead a new member tour.
Admission-based organizations like museums and science centers often offer tours to visitors. Your organization can turn these tours into special benefits for new members by incorporating:
- Behind-the-scenes access.
- After-hours events.
- Additional activities that’s not part of the standard tour.
- Early admission to new exhibitions.
Be strategic about including staff in the tour. When an executive or high-level director leads or participates in the tour, the experience will feel even more exclusive for new members. If the tour is open to all members, be sure to recognize new members with a special name tag, pin, or ribbon.
Tours are also excellent opportunities to introduce new members to each other. You can encourage a sense of membership community by inviting new members to stay for refreshments or, if appropriate, a hands-on activity after the tour.
A chance to sit down and talk after the tour also gives executives the opportunity to meet new members. Considering that some members also become major donors, face-time early on can provide meaningful payoffs later.
7. Host a new member event.
If your budget and size allow, you could host a special event only for new members (or a members-only event that incorporates perks for new members). This special event could take the form of a cocktail party, a lunch-and-learn, or any other new member event appropriate for your organization.
Special events might be harder to coordinate than free stickers or guest passes, but they build a stronger sense of community than discounts and guest passes alone.
Organizing an event that attracts enough new members is easier with integrated software. You’ll need your membership management database to integrate with your communications software (so you can send invitations to the right people), your event registration software (so members are recognized when they register), and your event ticketing and check-in stations at the event itself.
To promote attendance, personalize invitations with quotes from members who attended previous events, and send reminders with specific logistical information (e.g., parking information) as the event draws closer.
Your integrated software solution should be able to automatically send the appropriate follow-up messages members who’ve RSVP’d and further invitations to those who haven’t.
It’s easier to encourage your members to stay in your membership program if you demonstrate the membership program’s value from the moment they join. With these strategies, you can welcome your new members to your program in style.
Learn more about membership management with the great resources below:
- Membership Renewal Letters Guide [With Samples]. You’ve moved past the onboarding stage to renewal. Use our ultimate guide to membership renewal letters, complete with free samples, to write letters guaranteed to keep your members around.
- Member Engagement Guide. Welcoming new members is just the first step in member engagement. With our member engagement guide, you’ll learn sustainable strategies for engaging your members in the greater membership community.
- Double the Donation’s Membership Application Samples. Before you can welcome your new members, you need to get them on board. Take lessons from Double the Donation’s guide to building intuitive, effective membership application forms.
Elissa Miller, M.Ed. is Doubleknot’s Communications Director. As the former development director for a regional nonprofit, she’s passionate about helping nonprofits and youth-serving organizations effectively harness new technologies to streamline operations and support their missions.