May 28, 2019   |   Vol. 18   |   Issue 4
By Rick Whelan, CDM, MGI President

Does Your Association Have a Member Referral Program?

If you answered “no,” you are likely missing out on an opportunity to engage your members by referring their colleagues and friends, while promoting your association. How, you might wonder? With one of the oldest forms of advertising–“word of mouth.”

According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers trust referrals from people they know. When you are looking to introduce your association to potential new members, existing engaged members make great trusted sources; engaged members know the benefits of your association and how they have personally used their membership to grow their knowledge and network.

Here are a few helpful tips while developing a successful Member Referral Program:

  • Spend some time looking at who you would like to target with your referral program, before you start to build it. Are you looking to increase the number of young professionals belonging to your organization? If so, create a program specifically targeting your existing young professional members, as they are the most likely to know other young professionals. Your creative, email lists, and incentives should be geared towards the group(s) you seek to grow.
  • Determine the metrics you will utilize to determine a successful program, before you launch your program. If an average of one year is typically required for a new prospect to transition to member status, your program could be considered successful if your prospect database increases by 2%. On the other hand, if the timeframe between becoming a prospect to becoming a member is only a few days you would gauge success by matching by the number of new members.
  • Programs with both the current member and their referrals receiving incentives tend to do better. Incentives do not need to be costly or difficult to fulfill; they can be something as simple as a small promotional item, a chance to win a gift card, a discount on merchandise/conference registration, or a single chapter of an association published book. Non-member referrals could be provided with a white paper that is typically only given to members. Even better, a non-member referral could be provided with a discount on membership as an incentive to sign up for your promotional emails and offers.
  • Don’t forget ways to help members share your association offline by developing a simple membership benefit sell sheet that can be printed out and posted in office breakrooms or on company bulletin boards. You can host a PDF on your association website, then include that link in your membership e-newsletters, share it in posts on your social media outlets, post it on your website or in other membership materials you send out.
  • Create buzz internally with the program. Be sure to train those answering your customer or member service calls or emails on the program before it launches. Also, make sure that they are aware of the new program, how it works, and who to direct questions to. They should also receive all of the information being shared with your members, so they can see firsthand how the program is being communicated.
  • Don’t stop promoting your program. After the newness of your program wears off, it is common for Member Referral Programs to stop being promoted and improved. Referral programs that members don’t know about simply can’t work. Always include the program in new member onboarding materials and newsletters and share at your events. Send emails to your current membership at least twice a year advising them of the program and reminding them of the benefits not only of the program but of sharing all that they have gained with their membership.

If you are interested in developing a member referral program or improving your current program, please feel free to contact Rick Whelan at (703) 706-0350 or

Request a Membership Consultation