There’s a great song lyric: “Before you abuse, criticize and accuse, just walk a mile in my shoes.”

When was the last time you walked a mile in your new or renewing member’s shoes? Have you (or has someone on your team) recently gone through the process a member experiences when they join or renew?

Performing a routine audit of your onboarding or reboarding journey is an often overlooked exercise that can be truly eye-opening (and sometimes shocking!). It’s easy to do and can help you uncover the reasons members decide to disengage with your organization.

Let’s look at onboarding practices that definitely don’t work in order to hone in on what does.


Think about the organizations you have joined. Once you made the commitment to buy, how different was each experience? And how about what happened when you decided to stick around and renew with that organization for another year?

You may have received a single, very simple email confirmation. Zip, zap, done. Then you are left on your own to remember and understand the benefits that made you decide to join or renew, as well as where to find them, how to use them, and who to contact if you have problems.

Or perhaps you received a few email communications and each was jam-packed full of information, attachments and reminders, and you had the arduous task of sorting through all the details and to-do’s associated with what was supposed to be a fun and rewarding organization to join.

There are many different customer onboarding experiences that occur and each organization does it their way for a variety of reasons.

After years of experience examining onboarding journeys for our clients and making recommendations for improvement, MCA has established a list of things you definitely DON’T want to do when onboarding new or renewing members. 


#1 One-and-done email

This is often a system-generated confirmation and is very transactional—it’s not welcoming or engaging. If your organization is relying solely on this type of transactional confirmation, you will benefit from changing course and developing a personalized customer onboarding email series that not only reaffirms the decision to join, but also nurtures and provides useful information and content.

#2 Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink email

This well-intended onboarding method is usually the result of turning what was a new member welcome kit (sent through the mail) into a digital format. In doing so, organizations often put as much new member information as possible into one or two emails (welcome messaging, instructions for creating an account, benefits summary, notification of upcoming events, contact us information—just to name a few). A digital fulfillment experience CAN work, but it’s more easily consumable if split up into a series of emails (Tip: we suggest 8 to 10 sent every 3 to 5 days).

#3 Over-boarding instead of onboarding

In many organizations everyone wants a piece of the action and a chance to communicate with members. Marketing, publishing, events and advertising teams often have their own individual goals in mind and their own communication strategy to accomplish those goals. Onboarding turns into over-boarding when there is no single decision maker determining which stakeholders get access to the members (and in what priority). The result is a member experience that is overwhelming, disjointed and oftentimes includes too much “selling.” To avoid putting your member relationship at risk, we recommend having new members in a state of “quarantine” for the first 30 days with tight controls over who has access to them.

#4 No member “pulse” check

It’s important to ask your new member how they’re feeling about their experience with your organization soon after they join, as well as after some time has passed. Organizations often overlook this and only ask how they’re doing AFTER it’s too late and members have failed to renew. Send your active listening survey when the relationship starts so you have a baseline of how people felt when the purchase was still shiny and new. Then survey them again after 6 months. Compare your answers at each point in the member journey and you’ll likely find clues that could indicate if something changed in their experience that might put them at risk of not renewing.

#5 Assuming renewal means your work is done

If you have a robust and highly tailored new member onboarding experience, you’ve greatly improved your chances of the member sticking with you. But don’t stop with only onboarding your new customers, because renewed members also need to be nurtured. Make this a little easier by not starting from scratch, but by using the framework from your new member onboarding series as a starting point, and tailoring the messaging to be specific to renewing members.

#6 Automation without some oversight 

Email automation programs make things so delightfully…automated. But with automation comes risk if no one is periodically monitoring. Keeping regular tabs on your communication content and metrics is critical. If your automated onboarding series contains time-sensitive information (upcoming events, for example) you need to make sure that information is current. Or if some emails aren’t being opened or click rates are low, there’s opportunity for new messaging that is more engaging.

#7 Talking to members and prospects the same

Ideally your organization has the database resources that allow you to segment customer data and create tailored communications (members vs. leads for example). This nuance of member onboarding is sometimes overlooked because of the extra time required or the lack of technology resources to set up communications on a one-to-one level. It can be a disconnect for members to receive the same messaging that a non-member receives (for example, including a call to action of “Join Today” to your member audience reveals that you really aren’t talking to them specifically).

#8 Not giving (and honoring) a way out

While you hope your members will be delighted with every helpful and informative message you send, there are always those who will decide they don’t need to hear from you anymore (or maybe just not hear from you about EVERYTHING). Give them options to control their experience and opt-out of certain types or categories of communications. Despite what you may hear (“you send too many emails”), you really aren’t communicating too much—just too much about something the particular member doesn’t want to hear about. Don’t hide your unsubscribe, or make it difficult to find. Making people stay isn’t going to make them open (and read) what you’re sending.

#9 Forgetting to show members a little love 

Your members didn’t join because they had to, they joined because they wanted to. That is great. So it’s a nice touch to send a message that purely expresses your gratitude that they are with you. Explain what the organization is doing on their behalf and help them to understand that they are an important part of it.


A good place to start is to have someone on your team sign up as a member.

Then take note of what is received, in what order, and the timing of each communication.

Check the messaging within each communication and verify it is still accurate, clear and engaging. Are there new benefits or features that have been added to your member offering that should be added to the onboarding series? Be especially mindful of how much “selling” is happening in the first 30 days of a new member journey, and make sure the use of “you” (the member) out numbers the use of “we” (your organization). If you don’t allow enough time to nurture and show value to the new customer, you risk turning them off and losing them altogether.

By periodically taking a walk in your customer’s shoes, you can build an understanding of their journey and uncover potential problems that can cause them to disengage.

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