Member Referral Program Incentives That Work

Jumpstart your word-of-mouth membership campaign with new research on incentives.

Friend, boss, colleague: These are just some of the people who might have introduced a new member to your association. Such word of mouth is remarkably effective, yet many associations still struggle with creating an effective referral program.

In a study of approximately 130 association executives conducted by Avenue M Group, LLC, 81 percent had used a referral program to recruit new members. Many participants said that success comes from constantly reminding members of the program and inviting prospects to try out membership. Here are four key takeaways about what works when it comes to referral rewards and tactics.

Tangible, individual rewards are the most commonly used incentives by associations.

What incentives has your organization offered to encourage members to make referrals?

Gift cards: 59 percent

Free registration to annual conference: 45 percent

Other raffle entry: 38 percent

Education discount: 26 percent

Membership discount: 26 percent

Free registration for other education programs: 25 percent

Association-branded items: 22 percent

iPad raffle drawing: 21 percent

Free book: 16 percent

Book discounts: 10 percent

White paper or networking: 5 percent

The most effective types of incentives are those that provide a reward for an in-person event, such as education or networking.

How would you rate the effectiveness of these incentives? (rated on a scale of 1-10, with 10 = very effective)

Exclusive club for referring members: 6.33

Raffle drawing for electronics: 6.00

Free registration to annual conference: 5.79

Exclusive networking events: 5.63

Discounts on books: 5.62

Discounts on education: 5.50

Gift cards: 5.49

Discount on membership: 5.45

Free registration to other education programs: 5.27

Entry into a raffle: 5.1

Free research: 4.83

Free book: 4.73

Free whitepaper: 4.71

Free membership: 4.57

Association-branded items: 4.39

Associations are using a combination of online and offline tactics for encouraging members to recruit their friends and colleagues.

What methods or tactics does your association currently use to encourage member referrals?

Invitation to a chapter meeting: 38 percent

Email brand ambassador or program: 37 percent

Forward-to-a-friend email link: 37 percent

Loyalty or rewards program: 36 percent

Invitation to attend a live networking event: 31 percent

Invitation to attend a live educational event: 30 percent

Mail/print ambassador program: 27 percent

Web-based ambassador program: 22 percent

Invitations to live events and loyalty programs were rated as the most effective tactics for encouraging members to recruit their friends and colleagues.

How would you rate the effectiveness of these items? (rated on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 = very effective)

Invitation to a chapter meeting: 6.06

Invitation to a live networking event: 5.96

Loyalty/rewards program: 5.87

Invitation to a live educational program: 5.76

Email brand ambassador program: 5.71

Refer a member link on association website: 5.7

Invitation to an online education program: 5.7

Web-based ambassador program: 5.14

Mail/pring ambassador program: 4.95

Mobile marketing: 4.83

YouTube videos featuring members: 4.81

Magazine tip-in cards: 4.44

Animated YouTube video: 4.33

Forward-to-a-friend email link: 4.23

Ad on Facebook: 4.07

Promotional discount on Twitter: 4

Ad on LinkedIn: 3.79