A referral program is one of the best ways to recruit new members. Potential members are much more likely to be willing to join when they hear how awesome your organization is from their peers — and, having your happiest and most engaged members talking you up is a surefire way to welcome new members who are excited and ready to engage.

Moreover, a member referral program could be your strongest member recruitment strategy when times are tough and potential members need more convincing.

When it comes to creating a strategic referral program, focus on the five W’s:

  1. Who?

Start by looking at your organization’s overall recruitment strategy and what kind of members are you currently hoping to recruit — young professionals, small businesses, retirees? A more targeted referral campaign will be more successful.

Determine these segment(s), then determine who your most engaged current members are within those segments. You’ll want to open the referral program to your entire membership, of course, but make an effort to directly reach out to your highly engaged members with a phone call since they’ll be more likely to participate and have good leads.

  1. What?

What’s in it for members to refer you? The incentive is important. While some will refer you simply out of their own passion for the organization, most members will need a little encouragement to spend time encouraging a colleague to join.

It doesn’t have to be a monetary incentive, just think about what is important to your members. (VIP access to a popular event, additional exposure in your publications, enhancements in their listing on your membership software directory for a year, etc.

  1. When?

As you promote your referral program (more on that in a second), you’ll want to tie a deadline to it. That way, your members will feel a sense of urgency…and, they can’t come back to you a year after you started promoting this particular program and expect to receive the incentive.

Additionally, consider what time of year you hold the referral program. For example if your target is college students, you’ll want to start around August when they’ll be returning to school, whereas a recent graduate referral program should start around April or May.

If it’ll be a yearlong referral program, just be sure the incentive you choose is one that you’ll be able and willing to continue giving.

  1. Where?

Think about the communication channels that members are most receptive to (email, social media, text message, etc.) and set up an ongoing campaign that includes all of the places members will see it. Send regular communications until the deadline, while emphasizing said deadline as it gets closer.

Consider including testimonials of members who either referred or joined through referral. This will help members relate to their own network to determine who to recruit, and show them that it’s an effective way to create a more engaging and fulfilling membership for all!

  1. Why?

You’ll want to ask yourself a few questions to help keep your team centered on making the program strategic and effective. Even better, your answers can easily be used in the promotion of the program itself!

  • Why should your members help you recruit?
  • Why would a bigger, more engaged membership be meaningful to them?
  • Why will this help achieve the overall mission?

Likewise, help your members answer these questions for when they start talking to their colleagues about membership:

  • Why did they join the organization to begin with?
  • Why is this organization important to them and their profession or community?
  • Why do they keep coming back?

There you have it! Thinking through the five W’s with your team will ensure you have a solid foundation for any membership referral program.

Did you know that MemberClicks has a referral program? If you have any association or chamber colleagues that you know are searching for a new membership management system, we would love an introduction! You can learn more about our program and submit your referrals here.

This post was originally published on 4/24/18; updated on 10/13/20 for added value.