After several years of declining memberships, associations are now looking forward to better days. In a recent Marketing General membership marketing study, a majority of association executives reported increased membership from 2012 to 2013, compared to only 36 percent in 2010.

Some of this gain can be attributed to the gradually rebounding economy, but most of the credit goes to association leaders and staff at all levels. They have worked vigorously to reposition their organizations and their value proposition, as well as wrestle with the octopus that is new media to reach out to new audiences in new ways.

With traditional members dropping out due to age or economic hardship, some associations have sought to improve recruitment by restructuring or widening their membership base. An article in a recent issue of Associations Now presents three case studies of associations that boosted membership by rethinking their membership models.

While this can be an effective strategy, it does present some risks that should be carefully weighed prior to initiating a recruitment campaign. Here are three steps you should take when bringing on board a new set of members.

1. Integrating

If yours is an organization with a strong sense of member identity and/or selective membership criteria, adding a new member segment may alienate traditional members, setting up a situation in which members are polarized, which can lead to both traditional and new members resigning their memberships.

Before you begin recruiting, have a strategy for how new members will be integrated into the existing membership. Aside from wanting to grow membership and revenue, what other benefits will this new member segment bring to your organization? How will they help it to further its mission? How will they complement your traditional membership base?

Gather a sampling from your traditional members and find out what their possible concerns or objections might be. Use your findings to develop member- and mission-focused communications that highlight the benefits of expanding membership.

2. Assimilating

When you open the door to new members, will there be a place for them inside? Creating a new member category or restructuring your membership model is just like adding a new business unit or reorganizing your association. The new additions need somewhere to sit.

It is not enough to market your current member benefits to this new segment. There needs to be organizational space for them.

How will they fit into leadership roles? How will governance structures be modified or expanded to give them a voice and address their issues? What operational and budgetary support will be provided for them? What educational and informational products and services will be tailored to their needs?

Don’t assume that these new members will adapt to the organization; adjust the organization to provide them a welcoming environment.

3. Acculturating

Member orientation is a critical step in onboarding and retention, even more so when members are coming from outside the scope of traditional membership, such as age, discipline, education, profession or country. These new members will need additional help in becoming accustomed to the culture of the organization.

They will need to understand the history of the organization and its accomplishments, its leadership and operational structure, and the issues it currently is addressing. They also may need to get up to speed on professional or institutional jargon, commonly used acronyms or organizational nicknames, meeting protocol, modes and manners of communication, and levels of formality.

Again, don’t rely on sending new members to your association’s website to find the answers to all their questions. Actively engage them through personalized emails, mailings, phone calls and meetings to instill a feeling of belonging.

When you reach out to a new segment of potential members, you are not just offering them a product or service. You are inviting them to join a community and enter into a relationship with your association. Before you do so, make sure that when they accept, they will feel valued and welcome.