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4 min read

Membership Referral Programs: 3 Solutions for the Challenges Clubs Face

Few things feel better than getting an email or phone call from one of your favorite members with the contact information for a colleague or friend who is ready to just sign on the dotted line. That's why membership referral programs are so attractive. But let's be honest, they don't come without their challenges.

Maintaining a consistent and steady stream of interested prospects that come directly from your members can be inconsistent and hard to control. Fortunately, there are ways to make the process easier and more enjoyable for you, your team, and your members.

Challenge: Referral Incentives Don't Really Work

On the best of days, members are your club's greatest assets and advocates. They love sharing personal stories of their latest club championship win or the unbelievable birdie on hole No. 17 during their Saturday round.

But, when it comes to asking members for help finding new members, clubs often turn to incentives — a new driver, no dues, shop credit — as a way to entice people to have conversations with their friends about why they should join your club.

Here's the deal: extroverted members who are fans of the club are already recruiting their friends — they don't need an incentive. But for many members, recruiting their friends is awkward and feels disingenuous and forced. A new driver won't change that.

Incentives don't work because they don't change behavior. They simply reward people for doing what they would normally do.

Solution: Make Talking About the Club Easy & Natural

What’s a better way to equip and motivate your members to refer their friends? Cultivate natural, real opportunities for them to share their own experiences and other amazing stories at your club. Consider creating video testimonials with memories from longtime members, or stories that capture the experience of being part of an event or happening at your club.

These stories don't have to be about major championships, they just have to be real, honest, authentic, and interesting. Think beyond the course too, what other great stories do your members have to share?

Create sharable posts on your social media channels that include member quotes, tips, and videos from your golf professional, your racquet director, or photos of the latest championship-winning team, and encourage your members to share! Sharing the stories of your club gives the world a peek into the community, camaraderie, culture, and connection that comes from being a member.

A story featuring a member’s family will get posted to their social media and sent to everyone in their email contacts. Sharability beats a free driver every time.

Challenge: Referral Fatigue = Unpredictable Pipeline

The second problem with relying on member referrals is that it's hard to maintain consistency. Referrals are unpredictable. They may ebb and flow with member happiness or seasonality. At a certain point, even the most extroverted of members run out of friends to recruit.

In addition, your members pay a great deal of money to belong to your club. They look to the club as an oasis away from the pressures of normal life and don’t want to be burdened with finding the club’s next members.

This dynamic can leave membership directors feeling like they are hounding members instead of building healthy relationships focused on member satisfaction. Relying on referrals from members also leaves membership directors with very little control in meeting their new member and revenue goals for the year.

Solution: Take Control of Finding New Members

We agree that new members are an ideal source for new referrals so make it easy for them to do your marketing for you.

Milwaukee Athletic Club recently decided to implement HubSpot software to support their membership and event sales process. The club has recently undergone a massive renovation and wanted to create an easy way for members to tell their friends about the capital improvements and all the enhancements that are helping shape the future of the club.

Like the majority of most clubs, MAC had used its operational platform to send out all member communications.  They decided to lean into their sales and marketing software, HubSpot, to email not only prospective members but also their existing membership database. By using HubSpot, rather than Northstar, they could have accurate tracking and reporting. The 2-part email campaign was sent to the membership reminding the members about the recent club improvements and also included a link to “Refer a Friend”. Upon submission, the membership sales team receives a notification which has already led to 10 new referrals!  

Challenge: Current Members Aren't Connected to Your Target Member

When you rely on the pool of current members, many of the referrals are going to look very similar to your existing members. Think about it, when talking up your favorite product or service, who do you tell? Generally, the people who have a similar life situation.

Many clubs are looking to get younger members and attract young families with new facilities and increased activities. But if your current, older members aren’t availing themselves of these new programs, they may not be the best advocates. They may not even be aware they exist!

Solution: Market to Millennials and Beyond

When you are looking to shift the demographics of your club, it's important to create a marketing strategy that matches that audience.

Younger buyers highly prefer shopping online. They are used to getting answers to their questions quickly. That's why millennials who are looking for club membership heavily rely on online reviews, social media, and website information to make informed decisions.

Look for ways to create content, website pages, and social posts that share things that would be interesting and useful to your target audience.

A Few Other Things to Consider

Remember, that not every person who is interested in your club is going to be connected with an existing member. It's important to help usher website visitors through your club's specific process. Any insight that you can share about the process, timeline, and application process will help lessen the friction and barriers for people who are interested in membership.

Even people who are referred to your club still have questions, concerns, etc. If nothing else, make sure there is a specific page on your website where members' referrals can get some of their questions answered and understand what's needed to start the application process. And while you are at it, why not include your membership director's contact information or form for them to fill out!


Membership referral programs are an excellent source for bonus leads and prospects, but if that's your primary source for incoming leads, it might be time to make some changes. Look for ways that you can streamline your existing process both online and in person. Remember, stories are one of the greatest ways that you can authentically share the culture of your club!

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