Using Member-Get-A-Member Programs to Generate More Loyal and Valuable Members

As long as there have been membership organizations, there probably have been member-get-a-member (MGM) programs. It makes a lot of sense. Your members are likely to be in contact with others who share the same interests and needs as they do. 

Plus, as noted in an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Why Customer Referrals Can Drive Stunning Profits” a study of “10,000 accounts in a large German bank over a period of three years found that customers obtained through referrals are both more loyal and more valuable than other customers.”

Our 2015 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report highlights that once again “word of mouth” referrals is reported as the most effective membership recruitment channel for associations.

So how can membership organizations harness the power of referrals? From my exploration of MGM programs, I have not seen a single “right” way to run these programs. A common theme of effectiveness for MGM programs, however, seems to be making the program simple and being consistent in the request and expectation of asking members for referrals.

Also most MGM programs include some type of incentive to encourage members to participate. These come in the form of gifts or financial incentives, some type of contest, or recognition before your peers in the association. You should note that there a many legal requirements that need to be fulfilled if you use any type of sweepstakes offer or drawing. Additionally, CAN-SPAM restrictions apply when a member provides a colleagues email address to you without the prospects opt-in.  I do not attempt to cover those issues here.

Here are three examples of member-get-a-member programs that I am familiar with from different associations.

The first is a “free trial” membership approach. Current members are sent tickets – like those pictured here -- that offer a six month, no-obligation membership in the organization. The strength of this program is that members do not need to sell anything. They are simply asked to give away a sample of something that they value and use themselves. Additionally, both the member and the trial member are entered into a drawing for participating in the program.

A second example is from an organization that I have been a member of for years – the IEEE. Each year, they send me a set of cards in my renewal notice and ask me to distribute them. The member writes their name and membership number on the card, so when the invitee signs up for membership online, the member information is can be entered and captured. Specific financial rewards are provided by IEEE for recruiting members. Here is a link to the MGM web site for IEEE that gives full details on how this program works.

Another example is the MGM program of a trade association. Their referral program focuses the giving the member the privileged of conferring a new member dues discount to the company that they refer. If you or someone from your member company recommends a firm for membership, then you have the opportunity to also give them a 20 percent discount for their first year dues payment.

Finally, here is another MGM site that I like where the association simply requests members to provide them with the name and address of prospective members and then the association does the follow up work.  This is a program that I used years ago as a mailed nomination process, but it became cost prohibitive.  But using a website to at least collected prospect names even though it requires a mail follow-up makes sense. 

Along with the advantages of MGM programs, I think one of the biggest mistakes made is the assumption that a member-get-a-member will be a silver bullet to solve membership recruitment challenges. How often have I heard the statement, “if every members recruits another member, we will double in size.”

MGM programs can be a part of the recruitment solution. However, no matter how hard you try or what you promise, only a small, highly motivated percentage of members will be comfortable with or interested in serving as an evangelist for you. So use MGM programs as part of your recruitment portfolio, but do not view it as a comprehensive solution.


Jay Handler said...

Great post! While we work in Membership Development for Chambers of Commerce & Associations across North America, our focus is on long-term, sustainable growth for the organization. The trouble with these "in house" MGM programs is, as stated, that only a very small percentage of members will get involved.

What we advocate is a shorter, more structured approach. Bringing members together and working on recruitment (and hopefully ENGAGEMENT at the same time) allows more people to be involved in the process, a spirit of friendly competition to be fostered, and a new level of engagement for the volunteer members towards the organization. WIN/WIN/WIN!

Recruitment has long been seen as the life-blood of the organization. Perhaps it's time we started to emphasize ENGAGEMENT as it leads to both a better recruiting effort and increased retention rates.

Unknown said...

Don't forget to "harness the power" of your front line staff - those connecting daily with your current members usually determine the success or failure of an initiative through their buy-in and understanding of expectations...a little incentive for these folks doesn't hurt either!

Cathi Hight said...

Great examples of MGM techniques. They make it easy and convenient for members to support their association. In these days of time poverty, we need to offer different ways to grow membership and provide incentives for our members.

Tony Rossell said...

Hi Lisa -- Good point. Some of my clients have held competitions within their staffs on recruiting new members. Tony

Tony Rossell said...

Hi Cathi -- I think that we all know intuitively that an MGM program should work. My hope here was to give some examples that do not take a huge amount of money or staff time, but still give members a chance to participate. We are launching one of these now for a client, so I will try and keep everyone posted on how it does. Tony

Unknown said...

Tony, any update?

Tony Rossell said...

Hi Diane -- Thanks for asking. I have added some minor updates to this piece. The basic information is still valid. The one mistake that I continue to see organizations make is viewing MGM programs as a total solution to their membership challenges instead of one additional tool to use in their recruitment portfolio. Tony