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Step Into Your Member’s Shoes: From Onboarding to Renewal

Walk through a year of member-centric communications with me to see how a personal, automated approach can engage members.


Too many association marketers look at their member communications and automated processes only from the association’s perspective. But to help each member feel like they’re getting value and their needs are met throughout the year, the focus should really be on what each member experiences in every interaction with the association and the community.

No association has the staff or bandwidth to walk each member through their journey. But with smart AI through marketing automation, you can create a personal journey for your members, get them the right messages at the right time, and lead them by the hand—even if your hand is artificial.

Let’s look at what a prospective member might see when you have created an optimized member journey from onboarding to renewal.

Member Courting and Onboarding Phase

The member (let’s name her Leah) learned about the association from one of her college classes. She’s been looking around the website and studying the member benefits. While there, she signed up for updates, which gave us her email address.

The website offers some sense of the resources and community available so she can get a sense of what would be available to her.

Via web tracking, the association’s marketing automation platform sees which pages she tends to linger on. The topics of those pages put her into a target group for, “Member prospects interested in mentorships.” Leah receives carefully timed emails with more information on mentorships, encouraging her to join.

She joins!

Soon after she joins, Leah receives an automated email that makes her feel welcome, lets her know we appreciate her choice to join, and reassures her she’s made a wise decision. The email might look like this:

Subject Line: We’re glad you’re here, Leah! 


The email comes from a real person, one who gets the reply, not a “noreply” email address, making her feel truly welcome.

Subsequent emails in the onboarding campaign quickly engage Leah by explaining how mentorships are driven by the community. This encourages Leah to go to the community, introduce herself, and actively participate. That email might look like this:

Subject Line: Jump into our most popular resource – our member community


Leah receives additional personalized emails over a few weeks to a month, walking her through bite-sized descriptions of the many benefits and opportunities. Leah feels special, like she is getting the red-carpet treatment, and she’s getting rapid return on her investment. Meanwhile, the association is learning what she wants out of her membership.

Because many members join associations for professional development, Leah also receives information on that. That email might look like this:

Subject Line: Level up your career with our industry-leading certification program


Because of the association’s strategic, personalized automated email communications, Leah is:

Seeing the value of her membership, with no regrets

Feeling good about the association and the team’s desire to help with the things she’s interested in

Completing her profile because she’s confident she’s going to stay

Habitually checking the community as regularly as she might be checking LinkedIn

Leaning into the topics and benefits that are of particular interest to her

Fully aware of everything the association has to offer her so she can get the maximum benefit

Starting to actively participate in community discussions

Meeting and networking with other members in the community

Exploring the mentorship opportunities available through the community

Really happy that she’s not getting bombed with too many emails, and that the emails she does get are very relevant and create a tailored experience

Member Engagement Phase

Member engagement relies on successful recruiting and onboarding of members. Leah is becoming an actively engaged member because she’s experienced all the bullet points above.

Of course, now the trick is keeping her active and enthusiastic throughout the year. No one likes to start feeling forgotten or no longer special after the honeymoon is over. And you don’t want her to forget you either. Her life is noisy and hectic, and if you don’t remain a present and useful part of her life, you could easily fade away.

Keep up with Leah’s needs and give her what she wants when she wants it using data informed triggers and automation. Using the data of members who have come before her, you can help lead Leah down her path to success. A drip marketing automation campaign triggered by user behavior helps Leah on her journey and locks in her relationship with you. The best part? It’s scalable, so you can provide that same gratifying experience year-round to all your members.

A clean database then helps you more effectively provide the right information at the right time.

Watching what members are doing and knowing what they want are two different things. Make sure the data you have provides them only with emails that are worthwhile to them and prevents them from getting messages that don’t apply. Data will also tell you when someone has left an organization. Paying attention to that will help you clean your database. And a clean database then helps you more effectively provide the right information at the right time.

Some “throughout the year” engagement emails might look like…

Subject line: You did it! We’re proud of you.



Subject line: Yes, we noticed. And we miss you!


When members are only getting emails about things that are important to them, emails right when they need them most, and emails that help them get what they’re seeking as fast and easily as possible what they hear is, “We know you, we want to be of help to you, and we value your time.”

If that were your member experience, wouldn’t you stay active all year?

Member Renewal Phase

Remember how we said member engagement relies on successful recruiting and onboarding of members? Well, that has a direct impact on member retention. Your success at getting effortless, almost automatic renewals relies on how well you engaged members throughout the year. If you’ve kept Leah happy and she feels like she’s getting more than her money’s worth, you won’t have to talk her into renewing.

Which is what you want. If she has become unhappy or disenchanted when renewal time approaches, that’s bad. It’s a lot harder to win someone over at the last minute than to nurture their positive feelings throughout the year. Asked why members don’t renew, 50% of associations say the top reason is a lack of engagement with the organization (2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report). And that was up from 43% the previous year.

Asked why members don’t renew, 50% of associations say the top reason is a lack of engagement with the organization (2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report).


Let’s assume you’ve done a great job throughout the year for Leah. You’ve

Made sure she knows about and has explored all the benefits available

Invited her to engage regularly in your online member community

Made sure she feels known and valued

Stayed in touch with her throughout, not just when it’s time to ask her for money

Segmented and personalized all your communications with her for maximum value and relevancy

She’s more than likely to renew. Possibly sign up for auto-renew. You might not even have to ask her (though you should certainly thank her for doing so). But when it’s time for her to renew, make sure you have a smooth, thought-out process.

Check out Higher Logic’s Renewal Campaign Cheatsheet for a step-by-step process for building your own marketing automation campaign.

Here’s how your communication might look in practice:

Subject line: There really are good reasons to renew.



Subject line: We’re incentivizing you to renew your membership early.


These kinds of communications will help you cultivate members who become engaged, satisfied, and happy throughout their long-term relationship with you. But make no mistake, every bit of it is driven by strategic, automated email campaigns, tracking and trigger-watching, and effective use of data.

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