Strategically Seeking Referrals
By Aaron Babyar
The following article is in partnership with SRS and was originally published via supportraisingsolutions.org.
In the support raising world, a referral is much more than just contact information. There is depth to it, as someone trusts you and your ministry vision enough to purposely encourage contact between you and their friends, associates, etc. They also understand that you have a goal of inviting that person to join your prayer and financial support team. If you think about it, that is a lot of trust!
When seeking referrals, I’ve experienced several different types of reactions:
Some wouldn’t help at all – I’ve heard a few variations of “I’m never comfortable sharing other people’s information, not even for ministry.”
Some people have said they were going to help, but it was only a promise of forthcoming future information that never showed up, despite subtle inquiries and reminders.
Some people have helped very little – More than once I’ve had someone share a name or two and then clam up.
Some people help tremendously – One person that I didn’t know very well promptly put together a spreadsheet including names, contact information, and further information for 20+ different associates of his that he suggested I should call for an appointment!
I’ve led public SRS Bootcamps since 2014, which means I’ve been blessed to interact with thousands of ministry leaders around the topic of support raising. In particular, it’s been a blessing to listen, continue to learn about, teach on, and dialogue about referrals. Yet even with all of that empirical data, I can’t provide a surefire checklist method of gaining many referrals every time you want to ask for them. However, I’ve picked a few tidbits that I consider to be strategic guidelines to keep in mind:
Being spiritually healthy is critical, because situations change. Don’t let fear keep you from asking for referrals! However, don’t let overconfidence drown out the Holy Spirit’s nudging that perhaps it’s not the right time. You probably need to get referrals, but how that occurs may not always happen in the same way. Boldly move forward in prayer.
Only ask someone for a referral after they have personally considered joining your team. Have a clear “yes” or “no” from them before engaging the consideration of referrals. Keep them focused on their personal decision to partner in prayer and finances before jumping to a discussion on referrals.
Don’t forget to intentionally ask for referrals, and plan to do so regularly. Many (perhaps even most) of the fully-funded people I’ve met exhausted their initial contact list at some point. Be intentional before your list of contacts has dwindled.
Beyond the strategic guidelines mentioned above, I have developed my own personal strategy that has worked well for me. I can’t promise it will work for everyone, but the following example has been an effective strategy in my context. Don’t follow my example too closely, as it’s important that you pray, plan, and prepare your own strategy for gaining referrals. However, through much prayer and diligence, the following has brought some excellent referrals my way, which has led to some monthly ministry partners for me. With that being said, consider the following as descriptive, not prescriptive, of what everyone should do:
I prefer not to ask for referrals in the same meeting as when someone clearly answers the invitation to join my team (whether that is a Yes or a No answer). I like the continuation of relationship, and I will invite them to start thinking about referrals for the future, but the only task I actually do in this regard is to set up a future calendar date for that discussion. This gives them time to start thinking while not feeling like it’s a surprise. I may even schedule a near-future time to get coffee with that goal in mind. I want them to think of that future meeting as a different yet very practical way they can help me accomplish the ministry vision and also potentially bless their friends who might want to know about it.
When we sit down again at a near-future date, I remind them of the vision of the ministry, and let them know I have a process that will allow them to help me invite others toward accomplishing it. Then:
I ask if they would please allow me to help them brainstorm names of people who might be interested in hearing more about the ministry, while being clear that I don’t consider any name they bring up as a guaranteed future ministry partner. Meanwhile I SLOWLY suggest questions like: Who are some Christians you know who I probably don’t know, from work, school, extended family, neighbors, your kids’ sports teams’ parents, etc? Or from a different vendor business that your work interacts with? Other family members? Neighbors? Who are the first five people you would call if you were suddenly headed into full-time missions work?
I suggest a goal of coming up with at least 10 names with contact info
I take quick notes, and immediately write down any name mentioned, along with other details they might talk about (she is a banker, he is a realtor, they live near the park and he coaches, etc)
I keep an eye on body language. 10 total contacts might be my goal, but they might be done at six. Or they are excited and still going strong at 15 names. Let them keep going and maybe offer them more coffee!
When they are done brainstorming names, go digital! Instead of writing down or sharing phone numbers and potentially misspelling names, I ask them to text me the smart phone “contact cards” of each of the contacts mentioned. Note that those contact cards sometimes contain email addresses, work info, or pics that could all be helpful for me.
After they are done sending the contact card, I encourage them to NOT call their friend (sometimes this discussion may come up earlier in the meeting). Instead, I ask them to send a simple text message heads up to their friend whom I will be calling in the near future. And then I suggest and send to them something simple that they can copy/paste that looks something like this: “My friend Aaron Babyar helps lead a ministry that God is really working in and through, and it’s legitimately changing lives! He’s probably better at explaining it than me, so I gave him your contact info. He promised to reach out to you soon. Please do yourself a favor and connect with him for coffee or something.”
That’s a process that has worked well for me, and it’s constantly evolving. The next steps are all for me to focus on. I enter the new contacts into my MPD software and begin planning for a time of making phone calls for setting up appointments. Meanwhile, I’m sure to send a thank you to my friend who gave me the referrals.
What about you? What have been some good methods that have helped you gain new referrals?
Be sure to check out Categories for “Priming The Pump” of Contacts to help you gather more referrals.
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