Referral Marketing

How Learning From Kiva Can Improve Your Referral Program has grown to 800,000 lenders. Much of this growth is due to their referral program. Learn to improve your referral program using Kiva as an example.

Few charitable organizations can boast the rapid growth and incredible impact numbers of Kiva. Kiva’s mission is to alleviate poverty through empowerment of local business, which it does by enabling everyday people to become lenders who send microloans from $25 to entrepreneurs of their choice around the world.

Since the organization’s founding in 2005, Kiva has grown to an astonishing 800,000 lenders and has sent over $350M in loans. That’s impressive growth, especially when you consider that they are a nonprofit organization. Much of this growth can be attributed to their incredibly well-designed referral program. Here’s a closer look at what’s made this organization’s referral program such a success:


1. A Compelling Incentive

Kiva’s users want to change the world. They feel good about themselves and about the causes they support when they feel they’ve made a difference.

Understanding this, Kiva chose a dual-incentive program. Both the user and any new users they refer are rewarded with a free $25 loan they can put towards any entrepreneur they choose. Both parties are delighted to be able to make a positive impact without expending much effort, an extremely effective system that displays a remarkable understanding of the psychology of Kiva’s audience.

The Lesson: Know your audience and what motivates them, then excite them with an incentive program they actually find rewarding.


2. A Simple Referral Process

One of the great strengths of Kiva’s program is their incredibly simple sharing interface. There are many components at work that make referring friends quick and easy:

  • A Streamlined Landing PageKiva’s “Invite Friends” page cuts right to the chase, eliminating distracting sidebars and driving visitors directly to the sharing options. FAQ’s have been included right on the page to avoid losing users in the funnel.tumblr_mcb95nOr3e1qm7sff
  • Multiple Sharing OptionsUsers can quickly send invites through e-mail, a Facebook post, a tweet or a personalized link, all within just a few clicks. Many options mean less frustrated users and fewer lost referrals.
  • Personalization – For Those Who Want ItCanned messages make sharing fast, but giving users the option to edit them allows Kiva’s fans to share Kiva in their own words. Your ambassadors have stories worth sharing that may resonate better with those whom they refer.tumblr_mcb9fezDFo1qm7sff

The Lesson: Make sharing fast, simple and versatile. Don’t limit your referring clients to just one network. Let them evangelize your business on their terms.


3. A Visualized Impact

Users are able to see how big a difference their referrals are making. Kiva shows users their impact in a number of ways:

  • Successful Referrals & Their SourcesOn the “Invite Friends” page, users are able to see how much interest their social shares generated and which shares were most effective. Kiva sorts these by date, displaying the type of share, the number of clicks it received and the loans it produced. Lenders can use this information to help make their sharing more effective.tumblr_mcb939bZP11qm7sffThe callout boxes in the sidebar of the page are another example of making user impact tangible. These give an at-a-glance look at past referrals and track the impact they’ve had.tumblr_mcba0uowcD1qm7sff
  • Comparison to the AverageNobody wants to be average! On each user’s portfolio page, Kiva draws comparisons between the activity of that user and the average Kiva lender. The result is a pat on the back for dedicated lenders and an added incentive for those falling behind.tumblr_mcba2fm6811qm7sffUsers can also see a graph of the total number of their loans and watch excitedly as they grow over time.tumblr_mcba3ekkXp1qm7sff

The Lesson: Allowing your users to track and celebrate their referrals makes sharing your business all the more rewarding. Turn referral data into a motivating factor and arm ambassadors with information that can make them more effective.


4. Lending Teams & Leaderboards

Many people like to give as a group. Kiva took advantage of this by giving lenders the option to link up in recommended teams or to create their own teams. Kiva also created a brilliant “Lending Team Playbook” that covers how to grow your team and increase referrals – a literal “how-to” for making their referral program a success!


They then went a step further and pitted these teams against each other by introducing lending leaderboards. Teams now have the added incentive of bragging rights, which means more referrals for Kiva and more loans for businesses.


The Lesson: Look for ways to channel the passion of your community into more referrals, whether through teamwork or competition.


5. Consistent & Timely Reminders

Kiva keeps lenders in the know about how their loans are performing using the e-mails provided when signing up. There are four primary messages Kiva sends to users:

  • Thank-you messages for completed loans
  • Carefully timed updates informing users when enough has been repaid to lend again
  • Stories specific to the entrepreneurs and causes to whom the user has lent money
  • Rare promotional pieces discussing special offers, the referral program, contests and major company updates

Contact with users is targeted to avoid annoying their audience but frequent enough to keep them involved.


All of these e-mails contain call-outs to the referrals program with a link to the lender’s personalized sharing page.


The Lesson: Be deliberate and timely when contacting your ambassadors. Consider tying in opportunities to refer with every piece of communication you send, but don’t be overbearing.

Kiva’s successful referral program has been integral to not only making their organization a success, but also to changing the lives of entrepreneurs and their communities. Whether you’re selling a product or rallying ambassadors to a cause, you can always gain from studying the ways other businesses have found success.

What company springs to mind when you think of successful referral programs? Let us know in the comments!

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