Creating a Memorable New Member Experience

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Have you ever forced yourself to step outside your comfort zone?

I’m sure we can all think of an example from our own past, but entertain me for a moment: imagine you’ve just moved to a new town and you don’t know anyone.

When one of your new co-workers invites you to a party over the weekend, you agree to stop by despite the uneasiness in the pit of your stomach. You know you need to meet people and make new friends to feel more at home in your new surroundings. But there’s always a looming sense of awkwardness surrounding new social interactions that gives you pause.

This scenario typically goes one of three ways:

  • You show up to the party, not sure what to expect, but quickly find yourself at ease. You have an incredible time meeting all kinds of friendly people in your new town. Yippee!
  • You show up to the party, not sure what to expect, and immediately regret your decision. You realize that these people are not “your kind of people,” so you wait until it’s no longer rude to leave and make a swift-yet-graceful exit. (Admittedly, this one is more rare but still occasional.)
  • You back out of your plans at the last minute. You weren’t sure what to expect, so you decided it was better to stay within your comfort zone. You don’t make any friends and instead browse cats available for adoption in your area.

While some more extroverted people would probably choose the first option a million times over and would never even consider the last one, it’s safe to say that new social situations carry at least a small possibility of awkwardness for anyone.

Now think about ways this awkwardness might be felt by new members of your organization.

How might they feel awkward about joining a group of people they don’t really know? How could this awkwardness negatively impact their on-boarding experience or, more broadly, their membership as a whole?

What can you do to minimize or mitigate these feelings to make your new members’ on-boarding process more positive?

Hopefully you’re striving for an introduction to your organization that is welcoming and more like the first option. Although being an active member might have tremendous long-term rewards, it’s hard to get there if the first impression a prospective member has is subpar.

At Innovatis Group, we’ve run into this challenge with two of our clients––IAUG and VMUG. In each case, our team took inventory of our members’ needs, what solutions would be most effective, and how we could strategically utilize our resources to address those needs. (We’ll share more on IAUG’s approach later.)

For VMUG, we started by recognizing our new members.

In a meeting with my manager, we discussed the opportunities we had to create a more engaged membership within our community. VMUG had a fairly generic on-boarding system at the time; upon registration, new members would receive an email directing them to find their local chapter, register for events, and read up on recent updates.

No orientation, no personal introductions, no opportunities for questions. Not the best start to an engaging, enduring membership if you ask me.

I was quickly reminded of a concept I learned in college: instead of focusing all of your energy on the top and bottom thirds of your membership (the ones who are either all-in or have one foot out the door), it’s important to focus on the middle third.

These are the people who care for your organization, show up when they’re expected to do so, participate when possible, and support the leaders however they can. But they’re often overlooked because they don’t usually create a cause for concern.

This means they can quickly shift toward the bottom third if their needs aren’t addressed properly.

One pain point I had already felt from this middle section of our membership had to do with a lack of communication. When there wasn’t much communication coming out from our team, it was easy for our members to feel distant or undervalued. Thus came the challenge of finding a way to establish (and maintain) our connection with the middle.

I knew the introductory period for new members (or the lack thereof) was a huge opportunity for us. We needed to be proactive about establishing a touch point for any questions or concerns that may arise, and I wanted our team to be seen as a consistent resource. But what would be the best approach to make that happen?

After weighing different options, we decided that our new members would respond best to an informational webcast where they could learn the best ways to optimize their membership.

The logistics were relatively simple. We didn’t need to coordinate a venue or food and drink vendors. Our only significant challenge was building the event portal and promoting it, which was still a comparatively small undertaking.

During our monthly, 15-minute webcast, we share the best ways to connect and become a part of our community through online forums, local chapter meetings, and special interest groups. We then open the floor to questions from our participants and have a team on standby to answer all questions as thoroughly and efficiently as possible.

In the last six months, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in members who choose to pursue leadership positions or Advantage memberships so they may immerse themselves in our community even further. Similarly (although less quantifiably), we’ve gotten a sense from our new members that they feel more connected (and therefore less awkward) from the onset.

In conclusion…

It’s interesting to me how such a seemingly small initiative can drastically improve a challenge like this. Although our members weren’t doing a ton of cat browsing before we introduced the new member webcast, the results it has yielded give me confidence that our members aren’t experiencing as much anxiety during the orientation period. This means the awkwardness is kept to a minimum and, in turn, the first scenario I mentioned earlier is more easily attainable.


Rebecca’s example is one way our environment of collaboration and innovation allows us to provide tailored solutions to our clients. If you’d like to explore ways to engage your organization’s new members, consider collaborating with Innovatis Group.

Rebecca Ruhlman

Rebecca Ruhlman

Rebecca is a Leader Development Coordinator at Innovatis Group. She spends her days focusing on volunteer management strategy. She gets to empower volunteer Leaders so they can then empower the community they lead. (Fun fact: hot dogs are her favorite food and in her free time she travels to college campuses to facilitate risk-management and team building education for collegiate women.)