Use Your Member-Referral Program to Drive Recruitment and Engagement

Member-referral programs can help associations expand their communities. One membership expert shares some strategies for developing a referral program that benefits new and current members.

Members can be your best asset for recruiting other members. Knowing firsthand what your association offers, they can talk up the benefits of membership to their colleagues.  

Melissa Swartz, CAE, director, membership and community operations, at ISACA knows how successful association member-referral programs can be. According to ISACA’s data, 2,000 members recruited nearly 2,900 new members in 2022. 

“We’ve seen this program grow year over year,” she said. “The strengthen of our organization is in our community; this is an opportunity to lean on our community to help build our community.” 

Swartz shared how referral programs not only attract new members but also encourage current ones to become active recruiters. 

Focus on the Community Aspect 

Member needs have changed over the last three years, which means referral programs must also adapt. 

“The pandemic has really shifted ISACA’s focus to community and how we support each other and interact with each other,” Swartz said. “As such, our member-referral program has become much more of a community-building program.” 

Recognizing members’ concerns will help associations retool referral materials and resources so they can be meaningful for others in the same profession or industry. If something speaks true to current members, it’s likely that message will reach prospective members too.  

“Community is important for our members, so direct invitations are very meaningful,” Swartz said. “Prospective members get personal invitations from ISACA members they already know, and those members are sharing the benefits and opportunities their engagement with ISACA has offered.” 

Care for Your Referrers 

To keep members feeling appreciated and supported, acknowledge their hard work. Each month of the referral program, ISACA recognizes members with the best recruiting numbers. Monthly winners get their photos on ISACA’s website and free membership for the next year. At the end of the program, the grand prize winner receives a lifetime ISACA membership. 

For your program to be successful, Swartz said it’s important to make sure participants can engage in a way that’s logical and beneficial for them.  

For example, ISACA began offering electronic gift cards as incentives last year to better accommodate international members, and participants who wanted to convert their prize money into a donation could choose from several international charitable organizations.  

In a similar vein, chapters can be a great asset to referral programs, just make sure you have elements that cater to them. “A few years ago, we did a chapter challenge where twice a month we reported which chapters were recruiting the most [new members] and had chapter prizes for them,” Swartz said. 

Encouraging student members to participate in a member-referral program can help you expand your volunteer pipeline as well. In 2022, ISACA opened the referral program to student members for the first time.  

“Our student members were really interested in recruiting other students and enjoyed the prizes we gave out,” Swartz said. “It was beneficial for them and a valuable investment for us to reach the next generation of our members.” 

ISACA is already putting that investment into practice. The person who won ISACA’s grand prize for recruiting the most members was a new student member herself. “She won the free lifetime membership to ISACA,” Swartz said. “That means we’ll be able to help her not only during the academic part of her life but also through her entire career. She knows we’ll always be behind her.”

[Andrii Zastrozhnov/ISTOCK]

Hannah Carvalho

By Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now. MORE

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