Membership + Marketing

Do Member-Get-A-Member Campaigns Still Work?

Do Member-Get-A-Member Campaigns Still Work?

We live in an influencer world. We pay close attention to the likes and dislikes of our friends and family – even if we’ve only met our “friend” online or in an Instagram reel. We don’t trust advertising, but we do trust our social circle.

Several years ago, a landmark Nielsen survey of more than 28,000 international respondents proved it. In that survey, 92% said they trusted recommendations from people they knew above all other forms of advertising. Online consumer reviews came in as the second most trusted source of brand information, but the opinions of close associates ranked #1.

What does that tell us about referral programs like “Member-Get-A-Member” campaigns? They’ve been around for decades, but the psychological underpinnings for success are still there.

Referral campaigns are built on our preference for the influence of friends and family. In these campaigns, current association members are incentivized to recruit their friends and colleagues to join the association. It’s a personal touch, and it tends to resonate more than random messages on social media.

Members, of course, are rewarded for their recruitment efforts with some sort of premium – a reduction in dues, discounts on registrations, or entries in attractive raffles are common incentives. Association staff members are charged with providing marketing materials, managing contact information, and keeping track of the results, but current members do the heavy lifting. The trick is to convince them to expend the effort.

Here are 5 tips for designing a high-yield referral campaign:

Start by reviewing your value proposition

Ask yourself, “Why would a professional in this industry join this association?” The answer is your value proposition – it’s what makes your association valuable (even essential) to its members.

Be careful not to rely on standard answers like networking or advocacy. If networking is your main purpose, list all the ways your association provides networking opportunities. You want to be sure the association can meet its promises before you start approaching new members. Similarly, consider your advocacy efforts. Does an industry pro need to become a member to reap the benefits of your advocacy program? Is it really a membership driver?

Whatever it is, your value proposition should be central to any recruitment campaign. If you identify what drives your members to join and communicate it well, the value proposition will attract members because it speaks to their professional needs.

In fact, the 2023 MGI Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report revealed that associations believe that members don’t join because the association doesn’t communicate its value very well. Responding associations cite several value-centered reasons prospects don’t join: members don't see the value of membership, they have difficulty articulating the value proposition, or they do not market membership effectively. 

If you have refined your value proposition, you can provide your member recruiters with the information they need to answer questions about the value of membership. And when they talk to prospects, they can share information about the benefits they personally enjoy.

Create outstanding recruitment incentives

Members in different associations value different things. Your challenge is to find the incentives that motivate your members to recruit new members. If you run silent auctions as fundraisers, take note of which items are the most popular and which bring in the highest revenue – weekend getaways, sports packages, gourmet experiences, or time with industry celebrities are all popular items. These auction items could make great incentives for a membership campaign.

Depending on the dues revenue you expect to generate with the campaign, setting aside a small percentage of the new membership revenue could provide a substantial budget for the incentives. Ask your members or your board members what would motivate them to participate.


Engage your senior leadership + everyone else

A high-yield campaign needs participation from senior leadership (and everyone else) to be effective. The membership team can’t do it alone. Broadcast the campaign to everyone in the association and ask your senior leadership for their active participation.


Provide staff support

Your volunteers can’t do it alone, either. They need support from staff members. Make it easy for them to find the resources they need. Set up internal communication channels and collaboration software. Make sure they know how to find helpful materials that explain the details of your association. They won’t need everything for every contact, but they will need easy access to materials and staff. If you can offer training sessions, videos, or podcasts that review the essentials, make them available on demand.



Great marketing and communications can help your campaign reach new heights just as poorly designed efforts can sabotage it. As you begin planning your referral campaign, be sure to create the marketing plan that will support it. The 2023 MGI Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report found that associations use email, organic social media, and association-sponsored events most often to recruit new members. They reported that email, association-sponsored events, and personal sales calls were the most effective.

With that in mind, integrate your marketing approach to leverage all channels available to promote your message, particularly if you’re reaching out to non-traditional professionals. Concentrate on the channels your members and prospective members use most often. Plan strategies to address complicated information – like your dues structure or your process for approving new members – and try to simplify it as much as possible. Think like a new member to find holes in your narrative and instructions.


A brief note about trade associations

“Member-get-a-member” campaigns are more popular with individual membership organizations than they are with trade associations, according to the 2023 MGI Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. Trade associations still find success with person-to-person recruitment, but they tend to rely on personal sales calls rather than member-to-prospect contacts. Trade associations also are more likely to use association events for recruitment than they are to use social media.

Referral membership campaigns are not easy, but they can be effective. They require a clear value statement, planning, training, and supporting materials and resources. Above all, their success is grounded in participation at all levels of the association, particularly from leadership.



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