9 Tips on Referral Programs for the Association Marketer

Categories: Association Marketing Strategy, Membership Sales and Retention


Using referrals as a marketing tool is a time proven strategy. As an association professional, you already know that your connections (and those of your fellow staff) impact the success and growth of your organization.

Stating the obvious here: associations are about getting like-minded people together to serve a common set of goals.  So how do you expand your sphere of influence to grow your membership beyond its current levels?

Here are 9 tips to building & maintaining a healthy referral program for driving association growth:

  1. Know where you want to go. Use business intelligence reporting from your association management software (AMS) to track the new member acquisition rates and your retention rates to determine what membership growth goals you want to put in place. Be sure to include a timeline!
  2. Create a program for your referral business. Formalize the processes, marketing programs, program ownership, and metrics you will use to measure success. Documenting everything will give you something to reflect on and help identify areas for both growth and improvement.
  3. Not every member is a referral source.  Find the top 10%-20% of your members that are engaged and thrilled with the membership experience.
  4. Offer rewards. Incentives work wonders. Offer members event tickets, discounts, a free advertising spot on your website, or another extra benefit as incentive for providing referrals. Change the offer up every few months to see what resonates best with your members.
  5. Be specific!  Let your internal gatekeepers know what kind of members you are looking to include in your referral program. Trade members, associate members, members by a certain geography or demographic, etc. The more specific you can be up front, the more strategic your referral program will be.
  6. Recognize the work that your referring members have done. Track who is referring most often, and give recognition publicly if appropriate, for example by naming them the Association Ambassador of the Quarter in your quarterly newsletter.
  7. Make it easy for members to refer. Plan “bring a friend” event opportunities, create thought leadership content your members can share on their social networks, open certain meetings to non-members – what else can you do to bring the wall down enough to give them a good look at what membership with you is like?
  8. Actually say “Thank you.”  Each time you receive a referral, thank the member who sent it your way. Figure out how your appreciation will be expressed- a note, or perhaps lunch with your Executive Director?  Continue to cultivate this source. If he or she has referred one member, he will likely refer another if acknowledged for the effort.
  9. What comes around goes around.  Referral Karma can be a wonderful thing.  Reciprocate by referring business to those whom are referring business to you.

Referral business is up to six times more likely to close than a traditional lead source. Remain an association worth referencing by delivering value to membership through the services you provide.  Wow them, and they will continue to come back and bring their friends, too!

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