How to Implement a Successful Email Onboarding Campaign

Written by Larry Guthrie on November 15, 2018

First impressions matter. When members join an association online, their first impression occurs via email. At my association, we use an email onboarding program to guide them through the first 90 days of their membership. With so many benefits available, it can be overwhelming for a new member; our approach allows them to easily digest the information, ensuring they make the most of the association right away.

Intentional onboarding makes members feel part of a community and impacts retention numbers, as this study shows. So how does it work?


Any good email marketing campaign comes down to a content strategy defined by two things: value proposition and tone. Our process is figuring out what the value proposition is, evaluating that value proposition and working out how to communicate it. Integral to this is knowing your members - what do they want and need from your association, at what level of urgency?


Should these communications come from the association, the CEO or a chapter leader? When an email is coming from an individual, you can infuse a personal tone. This is an instant engagement technique that establishes rapport. Our emails are both friendly and business-like, because our members are in the finance industry and that is their comfort zone. Imagine you’re sitting next to them talking them through member benefits in an informative and welcoming way.


My former association is a part of ACG Global which has 59 chapters across the world. Their chapters’ competencies are around hosting great events and forming personal connections, not necessarily marketing and communications. When we created a centralized onboarding campaign, we were able to take that off our chapters’ plates and free some much-needed resources up for them.

While ACG Global fully onboards a member via email, their chapter leader reaches out to them personally and acts as the face of ACG, someone they will be seeing on a regular basis at events and meetings. This combination of high- and low-touch communication is a powerful member engagement tactic that really pays off.


Or don’t! We use a drip marketing approach, based on an educational model where you divide up messaging into portions (think of it as a multi-course meal). In the first email, you can give them an overview of the menu, including membership benefits in a quick, scannable layout. And set the expectation of how frequently they will be receiving these emails.

For us, this is biweekly. Every two weeks, we send out a message prioritizing benefits as they relate to the first 90 days of a member’s life cycle. Each email can delve deeper into a specific benefit and show them how to make the most of it. Make sure your instructions are clear and that you tell them the tangible impacts membership will have on their career.

Marketing automation is a great tool, and the prices are reducing dramatically. You can set it, then forget it by formatting and approving all your emails ahead of time. It’s a reasonable and practical option for associations of all sizes. But an onboarding campaign can also be executed manually to equal levels of success. It simply requires someone to oversee it who is detail-oriented and good at email list management. Most importantly, budget need not be a factor in whether or not you implement an onboarding campaign.

Larry spoke in the “How to Lose New Members in 90 Days or Less” session during SURGE Optimism 2018, an interactive virtual conference hosted by on November 7th-9th. Click here to watch the sessions on demand.