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I came across an article recently that was making the case for the undeniable value of the age old new member packet for today’s association. It mentioned how new members are most always engaged members, and that the trusty packet can help those members stay engaged beyond the first exciting months of membership. Interesting thought, but I don’t think a new member packet on its own comes close to getting the job done.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against new member packets. Having previously worked in the printing industry for 15 years I can honestly say we always loved them. They were great sources of revenue for… the printing company. Ordered like clockwork, and always needing to be replenished, there was nothing not to like about them – except that was back in 1995 when email, websites, membership software, and many other technology offerings were new and not widely adopted by associations.

However, I will agree with one premise of the article – engaged members is the standard all associations should to aspire to. But how about bringing that idea into a modern context? What I am suggesting takes a little more effort than putting a pocket folder into a 10×13 envelope and dropping in the mail. It comes from the idea that more effort equals a deeper connection, resulting in increased engagement and ultimately greater member value.

We recently held a webinar called Flipping the Membership Equation: Thinking Different About Member Retention and Recruitment. In the webinar we highlighted the work being done at the Association of Otolaryngology Administrators (AOA) to recruit and retain new members.

The program is centered on offering a limited free trail membership through 2014. What I want to highlight here is not the value of a trial membership offering, but rather the New Member Touches Program they have implemented as the backbone of their program.

They have launched a highly organized program that requires six touch points with new members within the first 90 days of joining. It involves the Executive Director, AOA staff, and membership committee connecting with new members in a very intentional way. There are phone calls, emails, letters, and yes, even a new member packet (which they customize based on the member’s stated interests) sent to the new member.

In addition, AOA has created a renewal plan that starts 90 days prior to the trail member’s anniversary date, making sure they are reminded of all of the value they have had access to during their trial membership. The goal is to get those free trial members converted to paying members.

The key takeaway from this is the number and variety of touches between the AOA and the new member. We all know that members are most vulnerable for dropping their membership during the first year. It often can be attributed to them simply not making a meaningful connection with the association, its leadership, staff, and other members.

The simple truth is that printed materials become outdated and eventually have to be updated or replaced. Today’s hot swag becomes tomorrow’s dollar store bargain bin featured item. Printing and postage for these kits is expensive and can be a drain on your budget. Electronic versions of membership kits are easily updated and incur no printing or mailing costs. Of course, what they save in cost they lack in a tactile experience originally intended from a physical packet.

Technology allows us to connect and deliver in ways like never before. Membership software brings a great deal of self-service options to members and prospects. More programs and services can be efficiently delivered without negatively impacting staff and volunteers. A lot of the interaction choices can be left up to the member. However, with all of this technology driven interaction you can run the risk of allowing membership to become impersonal as your organization grows.

Programs like AOA’s drive home the need for personal, intentional connections with members – both new and those who have long supported your association. You don’t need a trial membership program to take on this initiative.

Using technology like membership software should free your staff to focus less on administrative functions and more on creating programs like AOA’s, where you can build and nurture those extremely important connections with members. That’s where member engagement lives.