The Value of Referral Sources

When a Christian school receives a referral, it is receiving more than a new student.  It is receiving a vote of confidence and appreciation from its community.

Our experience with Christian schools suggests that there is minimal engagement between referral sources and schools.  Even though referral sources are important, or should be as important as other business partners, they are seldom treated as such.  Referral sources have the potential to be a valuable part of a school’s support system and sustainability.

Does your school treat referral sources as it treats other supporters who make comparable contributions to your school’s success?

Students arrive at a Christian school’s door by two paths.  One is when a family researches potential schools and makes a selection.  A second is when a trusted source recommends a school.  The referrals from a trusted source are usually the least expensive and most successful students a school can have.  The cost of acquiring the student is low in most of those cases.  The family enrolls their student(s) predisposed to like the experience and with high expectations of success.  That provides you with a more engaged student than usual, which should result in better outcomes.  Of course, this assumes the referral source truly understands your school and its services, and can accurately profile the range of students you can serve.  Do your referral sources know enough about your school to refer the right students?

Most schools have the potential to have many referral sources within their community.  There are many reasons why individuals and organization that could be a referral source never refer students.  Some of the reasons are real and are impossible to overcome.  Some of the reasons are valid but could be eliminated if only you knew about them.  Sometimes the referral source has incomplete information about your school.

If prospective sources are reluctant to make referrals, you know that some students and families are reluctant to fully engage for the same reasons.  Eliminating the objections that you can will increase your school’s appeal to your community and increase the number of students served even if your school never wins over some prospective referral sources.

Prospective referral sources can be a source of competitive information.  When a prospect is happily referring students to a competitor, it is important to ask the prospect, “When is it better to send students to a different school than ours?”  While you are unlikely to like the answer you receive, what you learn about your competitor will help you strengthen your school’s reputation, services, sustainability, and community support.  Bad news can be some of the best news you receive.

What can your referral sources and prospective referral sources tell you that will strengthen your mission, school, and services to your students?

Next Step:

Give your referral sources the treatment they deserve based upon the value they could have for your mission, school, and students

Ensure your referral sources are well-informed about your programing, student profile, and outcomes

Use referral sources and prospective referral sources for market intelligence

Cultivate referral sources and prospective referral sources the way you cultivate other important supporters (donors, volunteers, grantor, etc.)

Referral sources put their reputation at risk every time they make a referral.  For that reason, you should expect it to take time and effort to cultivate a prospective referral source.  Just one or two referrals per year will probably more than compensate your school for the effort.

Take It Further:

Use your board members to help with prospective referral source cultivation (that will tell the prospect how much their support will be valued)

Use the ebb and flow of referral sources to predict your community trends (support, needs, attitudes, etc.)

Extend your referral management process to include referral sources for donors and volunteers


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