Tips for Onboarding New Members

Onboarding new members can make or break your organization. Learn how to make it work for you.
Mitch Colleran
March 25, 2021

We originally shared this post in 2019, but we’ve made some additions and updates to this 2021 edition. Enjoy!

Onboarding new members is a vital step for any association and, at times, one that many organizations miss or under-emphasize. The first year of membership can have a significant impact on whether that member will decide to renew their subscription with you or not.

If you’re planning to onboard with the goal of retention (which you should), it’s all about building a bridge with your members and continuously engaging them at strategic touchpoints. Engagement during their first year of membership, along with the coming years after, is the best way you can ensure members continue coming back for more.

So what is member onboarding?

Onboarding is the process you have to help any new members acquire the appropriate knowledge and skills required to make the most of your membership site or online course. 

With an effective onboarding process implemented, you’re not simply taking a member's cash and leaving them to their own devices. You’re taking their hand and walking them through their first couple of steps so that they can become familiar with your website. 

While the most appropriate solution for on-boarding will differ from site to site, your goal is to have the following bases covered: 

  1. Remove any technical challenges.

  2. Deliver immediate value.

  3. Integrate the member into your community.

  4. Encourage content consumption.

  5. Reward desired behaviors.

A positive onboarding process results in more engaged members who achieve better results, stay around for much longer, and refer your sites to other like-minded individuals, leading towards some fantastic results.

Onboarding methods

There are many different ways to onboard your members. Which of these styles best suits your website comes down to the type of information you need to provide and the kind of memberships you plan to use. 

  • Welcome email: Ensure your first email truly counts. Make the new members feel welcomed and valued, let them know what to expect and how to begin their journey. 
  • Getting started guide: Offer them all of the necessary information and steps they require to move through your site and find anything they may need.  
  • Walkthrough video: Develop a video that takes them through a tour of your site and all the different sections they have access to. 
  • Email sequence: Place a sequence of emails that will gradually introduce them to your site and all the various features implemented to help them while they browse around. 
  • On-site messaging: Utilize a system such as to deliver onboarding messages when the member logs on to your website. 

You may want to consider combining some of these methods, like creating a welcome email that contains a walkthrough video. Generally, most sites would benefit from incorporating an email campaign targeting new members.

In truth, there aren’t any hard and fast rules when it comes to member onboarding, and you should test some of these different methods to see which ones give you the best results. 

Ways to Make Your New Member Onboarding Program the Best It Can Be

Newly implemented onboarding member programs are a structured plan for communicating with new members consistently and frequently during the first year of membership with the idea of engaging each of these new members. 

If you’re planning to implement a member onboarding program for your site, or if you already manage to set one up and want to revamp it, here are some typically successful strategies! 

Start Now! 

The window of opportunity to reach out to members varies from website to website, so your best bet to reach your new members is to reach out immediately. Tell members how your website can help them and any vital contact information for new members. 

Consider sending them information that is relevant to them, as well. Perhaps you’ve written a new blog post you’d like to share or recorded a video of your recent board meeting. This will help new members get a taste of what to expect, as well!

Embrace Change 

As your program matures, your performance should improve year-over-year. 

Learning what works (and what doesn’t) is essential to improving your onboarding program’s performance over time. Try new strategies, nix the ones that aren’t working, and review your process regularly.

Map Existing Processes

Begin by accessing every interaction between the member and the organization during the first year of membership. Consider this exercise your “member journey mapping.”

Group similar activities into campaigns and identify every element of that campaign. Measure both the importance of the campaign and each piece within it against the perceived member value. By going through this process, you’ll have an effective method for prioritizing the respective member experience. 

Use Calls to Action

Calls to action essential to ensuring your members engage with your content and stay engaged with your group. 

Focus on including CTAs in your different campaigns. Clearly state and direct the action you want your members to take. For example:

  • Complete your member profile in our online community

  • Have them introduce themselves to your online community by answering two simple questions, such as “How did you get involved in this industry? Can you provide one interesting fact about yourself that others may find fascinating?”

Studies have revealed that 69% of first-time posters continued posting after these initial messages. If you can get over the initial barrier to entry, you’ll have an engaged member in the palm of your hand. 

Another exciting idea is to customize your online community home page. Show an onboarding widget that only new members will see to track their current onboarding process. This personalization provides a customized experience for each member, which typically improves engagement over time. 

Nurture Further Engagement

The main goal for any association is to ensure members become more engaged because there is often a strong correlation between engagement, satisfaction, and retention. 

Ensure your engagement goals are more measurable by implementing these concrete CTAs into the first-year member experience. This will allow you to gradually nurture them up your association's engagement ladder, resulting in increased engagement, more satisfied members, and significantly improved the first-year retention. 

Use engagement to propagate engagement even further. For instance, one type of nurturing is through action-triggered automation, which leverages a single action to encourage another. 

Suppose one of your members makes a post about a question related to their industry on your online community and receives four responses rapidly. In that case, you could automate a message congratulating them on the responses and invite them to choose one of the responses as the “Best Answer.”

When they do finally choose the best possible answer, another email is triggered to the writer of that best answer, congratulating them and thanking them for their contribution. 


Utilize these tips to develop an onboarding program that helps members locate the connections and resources they’re desperately searching for while making the process seamless and more efficient for staff. Your main goal should be to develop an onboarding process that’s organized, measurable, and focused on gaining and retaining new members.

Mitch Colleran