How To Create a Membership Referral Program


Implementing a member referral program can make a great addition to your overall membership model. Peer referrals are one of the most cost-effective ways to help you grow your nonprofit’s membership base while building awareness and credibility around it.

A thoughtful approach to your referral program starts with motivating current members and employees to leverage their networks. In this guide, we will cover the basics for establishing a referral program so that you will be well on your way to growing your organization.

Here is what we will discuss:

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What Is a Membership Referral Program?

A membership referral program is a marketing strategy designed to recruit new members to join an organization. It leverages existing members and employees to identify prospects and delivers rewards for successful conversions.

If properly developed and deployed, a referral program can be a significant driver for growth, building a strong sense of community within an organization.


Why Create a Membership Referral Program?

Apart from growing an organization and creating a community, a membership referral program has other benefits.

membership-referral-why-createTristan is stoked to start a membership referral program for his nonprofit!

Members Know Other Potential Members

The ability to tap into the personal and professional networks of your members opens up vast opportunities for growth. Word-of-mouth marketing is incredibly powerful and can be a leading source of new business or member recruitment for many organizations.

Having members engage colleagues, neighbors, and other social circles provides opportunities across all of your members’ community touchpoints. Referrals from peers with similar interests and values go a long way in initiating a relationship with a business or cause.

Members Are Trustworthy

There is already a baseline level of trust established between a nonprofit and its members. Therefore, there is a natural extension of trustworthiness and credibility when someone that has personal experience with your organization promotes it.

Pro Tip: Ninety-two percent of people trust referrals from a friend or family member over other forms of advertising. Therefore, your best chance of attracting new members is through existing ones.

Your members and employees are your first opportunity to cultivate brand ambassadors. Lean on them to spread the word about the great work you are doing!

Referral Programs Are Cost-Effective

It is possible to build and implement an effective member referral program with minimal investment. By incentivizing current members and employees to tap into their networks, they are doing the work for you. There is no need to spend valuable funds on a paid media campaign. Additionally, you have built-in targeting since many social circles share similar values.

Through the development of an easy-to-navigate, potentially automated process, you are also reducing the number of staff hours dedicated to gaining new supporters, which delivers cost savings for the organization.


Membership Referral Program Best Practices

Keep these best practices in mind when formulating your referral program.

Outline Your Target Audience

Clearly defining your target audience will go a long way in ensuring your program is effective. Identifying the segments of the population with which you wish to engage will help you tailor your messages and incentives, which will hopefully result in more referrals.

Defining your ideal member is not meant to exclude anyone; it is to ensure the relationship will be mutually beneficial. Aligning on expectations from the beginning of the relationship is important. Individuals who may not meet all of the criteria are still welcome to join — it is just a good faith attempt to minimize disappointment down the road.

Create an Easy Referral Process

Set your potential members up for success. Make it easy for them to access your referrals page. You want to develop a simple input form that referred individuals can fill out in a matter of minutes. With an overly complicated process, you potentially deter participation.

Additionally, consider using referral codes. You can use a management software to automatically generate these codes and tie them to specific members. This helps with tracking when it comes time to evaluate your program’s progress.

Promote Your Referral Program

In order for your program to be successful, people need to know about it. Be sure to communicate to your members what the parameters of the program are and how they can participate.

Use existing communication channels to meet your members and employees where they are. Be sure to build social sharing into your digital promotion so that supporters, both potential and current, can discover and spread awareness for your program.

Example promotional channels include:

  • Newsletters

  • Emails

  • Social media posts

  • Website pages

  • Blog posts

  • Influencers or happy customers

Pro Tip: Consider the appropriate timing for targeting your audience. For example, teachers are likely more available as they head back to school in the late summer, while college graduates are around in the late spring or early summer as they start their career.

Mobilize Your Most Involved Members First

When it comes time to kick off your program, start with the members or employees who already engage frequently with your organization. These individuals are your best advocates. Since they are pleased with their experience, they will want to share that with others in their personal and professional networks.

membership-referral-best-practicesOliver is calling his most engaged members about his new referral program!

Reward Both the Referring and Referred Members

When structuring your rewards program, do not lose sight of rewarding both the individual doing the referring and the individual who is referred.

Acknowledging your members and employees who refer others is a good way to motivate them to keep up the good work. If you further incentivize their efforts with free gifts, discounted publications, and more, it will encourage them to make more referrals in the future and help with retention and satisfaction.

Rewarding new members demonstrates that you value their membership. Once an active member, they may utilize the referral program and engage with your organization further by donating, volunteering, and more to help support your mission.

Offer Meaningful Rewards

Selecting appropriate rewards ties back to knowing your target audience. Based on your mission and the services or products you offer, think about what your members value. Knowing what is important to them will help inform your selections for both those doing the referring and those being referred.

Be sure to clearly communicate what benefits your recipients will receive — and when — on your referral page.

A few reward examples include:

Understanding your competitors’ referral programs can also help you structure yours. For example, if you see that all of them are offering a particular reward to referred members, you can offer it as well.

Once your program is up and running, do not forget to solicit feedback. You can always modify your offerings based upon what you are hearing from current participants.

Track Your Referral Program

Just like any successful initiative or campaign, the ability to track progress and efficacy is essential. Understanding how members are supporting the program is necessary for adjusting the incentives, promoting the program, and more. 

Luckily, there are software solutions available to help automate your tracking and reporting. This can save time, freeing personnel to focus on higher value operations. If you are employing referral tracking software, think about capturing the following data points:

  • Number of referrals per member

  • Prospect conversion rate

  • Participant share rate

  • Promotion click-through rate

  • Amount of time referred members stay with the organization

  • Reason for joining

  • Reason for leaving

Start tracking the program within a month of establishing it. Otherwise, you may invest a lot of time and effort into it without receiving a desirable return. The sooner you establish tracking that confirms the success of your program, the sooner you can pick up on the patterns responsible for making this growth possible.


Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you feel equipped to get started on a member referral program today! A path to growing your membership base already exists within your current members’ networks. So use them to build a sense of community around your mission.

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💡How do members benefit from referring their peers?

Referral programs should reward the members who refer their peers. The rewards vary by organization, but you might offer a discount on membership dues or access to an exclusive event. Find out more. 

🔑 How do members learn about the referral program?

You should promote your referral program through as many channels as possible so that all of your members learn about it. Potential channels include newsletters, emails, social media posts, and blog posts. Find out more. 

📝 Does the referred member get rewarded for joining?

Yes, you should also reward the referred member. It demonstrates that you welcome and value them and incentivizes them to also participate in the referral program. Find out more.

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