Childcare Referral Programs: Surefire Way to Increase Your Enrollment and Occupancy Rates

Referral programs are a shining beacon in a world full of push marketing. 

Current marketing tactics via popular mediums like WhatsApp and Instagram may seem more like spam than a targeted marketing initiative. However, the story differs when close friends and families send the message. 

The ‘been there, done that’ situation often brings people together, making their suggestions valuable. This opens the path to referral marketing, a gold mine for childcare centers. 

Understanding childcare referral program: How does it work?

Childcare referral programs are vital because parents heed trusted sources regarding their child’s safety and growth. For childcare centers, having a parent referral program can lead to high enrollment and occupancy rates.

Let’s break it down.

A childcare referral or a parent referral program encourages existing parents via incentives to refer your center to their friends and families. Similar to word-of-mouth marketing, such referral programs can help bring in admissions while keeping investments low.

Arizona-based Cadence Education is a very clear example of a referral program that is designed to benefit both parents and the institution! It clearly highlights:

    • The incentive – $100 tuition credit
    • The procedure – Notice how they start with a complimenting message, championing the cause of referral coming from a place of trust, instead of coming straight to the ‘deal’ as one might say.
    • Parent testimonials – These videos further amplify the trust factor, adding an emotional touch without going too deep into it.

The landing page also has a downloadable referral form that adds to the urgency of the initiative and makes it easier for parents to decide. 
Childcare referral is about balancing the act while adding value for everyone involved. 
In this blog, we will be discussing how to design a childcare referral program framework, how to implement it, and how technology can boost it.
We will also highlight why you, as a center owner, should take advantage of referral programs.

Key objectives of a childcare referral program

Before you set a referral program, it is essential to set key objectives to stay in the lane you chose for your childcare center. 

Here’s a breakdown:

Up Your Occupancy Rates with Childcare Referral Programs – Illumine



Get more leads and enrollments

A straightforward aim to get more enrollments and admissions at your childcare center is by using referral programs. Your programs should be primarily focused on getting qualified leads who are more likely to convert.

Build strong customer and community relationships

A strong childcare referral program relies on positive feedback and glittering recommendations. The glowing comments help build a robust community of those who seek to help other parents while enjoying the incentives offered. 

Increase customer loyalty and retention

It is important to incentivize parents in your referral program. Rewards and incentives further help increase customer loyalty, encouraging parents to spread the word around and help your childcare center get more enrollments. 

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Designing an effective childcare referral program

It is the first step to building a successful lead generation machine. 

Allow this to be a blueprint that sets up the base of your entire referral program.

1. Always remember: Less is more

A successful referral program is all about less investment and more results. Use existing resources to build a pipeline to get more leads. Utilize your existing social media accounts to build communities or be a part of one, talk to the parents of your current and former students/children regarding the referral program, and much more. 

You do not have to invest in getting new leads from scratch. Instead, you can email them, highlighting the offerings of your childcare referral program along with the rewards and incentives. 

However, it is crucial to refrain from spamming them to retain a good customer experience.

2. Rely on what you already have

Since we are talking about leveraging happy existing customers, the point of a childcare referral program is to use what’s already out there. This includes highlighting your ambassadors and engaging with your existing community to get more referrals for your center.

This is just the start of building your referral program, but being judicious with your resources is key.

3. Make the referral program more sustainable and organic

In addition to incentives, add personal elements to make your childcare referral sustainable.

  • Foster a sense of community: This creates a supportive environment where your existing customers share positive experiences and are more likely to refer your services. 
  • Implement a two-way referral system: This dual-beneficial program not only encourages parents to refer new families but also allows new referrals to recommend others, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of growth.
  • Partner with local businesses for cross-promotion: Cross-promotion not only widens your reach but also strengthens community ties which add to the overall positive experience.
  • Recognize and reward dedicated advocates: This makes the program super sustainable as it nurtures a culture of referrals which is pivotal for the childcare center’s growth strategy.

Implementing a childcare referral program

Designing a childcare referral program is the job half done. While you have the blueprint now, all you have to do is set it up. 

Here’s how we suggest you go about it.

1. Set a program structure

For your childcare referral program, it is important to create a strong foundation by identifying the right customers, understanding their mindset when it comes to rewards and recognition, and zeroing in on their preferred communication channels that can help bring in more inquiries for your childcare center. 

a. Identify your existing customers

Deep dive into your customer database and divide your existing customers into segments based on various criteria, such as the age of children, their location, and the duration of their child’s enrollment. This segmentation will help you tailor your referral program to different groups and provide more personalized incentives. 

Furthermore, it helps identify customers with a strong social presence or community influence. These individuals can significantly spread the word about your referral program and attract new families.

b. Set your incentives

Your incentives are a way of saying thank you to your existing customers who are helping you get more enrollments via referrals. Your referral rewards should directly benefit your ambassadors, who benefit through rewards or cash prizes or saving money through discounts.

In your childcare referral program, you can offer tuition credits for each new enrollment that comes from a referral. This has a double benefit: it encourages current parents to recommend your center while also giving them a tuition discount, ensuring they keep their child in your care. This approach effectively boosts both getting new customers and retaining the ones you have.

Pro tip: If you have an existing loyalty or rewards program, consider integrating it with your referral program. This can encourage your current customers to refer more families in exchange for additional rewards.

Since the reward program is designed to benefit all stakeholders, it is crucial to set a few conditions.

For instance, the referral reward will only be dispatched when the referring student has either enrolled at your childcare center or made an official switch to your center. Referrals without results should not yield any rewards, and this message should be delivered in your messaging. 

No matter where you are promoting your referral program, social media, website, or emails, ensure that you talk about the conditions in detail everywhere so parents know what they’re in for.

For example, in this brochure by Saint Mariam School, the childcare center clearly outlines, “Each time a friend enrolls or switches their child, you get $100 off your tuition”. The fine print should be clear and give you power over this referral program.

2. Enabling promotion and communication

Referral programs are all about promoting your childcare center. However, your childcare referral needs promotion as well. 

Determine the communication channels your existing customers prefer – whether it’s email, social media, newsletters, or in-person meetings. Tailor your referral program communication to match their preferences for better engagement.

This will help bring more parents to your referral network and allow you to cast a wider net for your enrollments

a. Create a dedicated childcare referral program page on your website

This is one of the most reliable strategies to get the ball rolling. 

 Create a clear landing page highlighting:

  • the benefits, 
  • eligibility criteria, and 
  • rules 

In addition to helping parents understand the program better, it will also make it easier for them to share the benefits with other parents in their communities via a simple link. 

b. Spread the word on social media

Sharing your referral program gets easier if you have social media handles with a high parent interaction rate. Create a buzz around the program – do teaser posts hinting that something exciting is coming their way, and then launch your program with announcements across all platforms. 

Tie in this launch with your website by taking the referral landing page live on the same day as the launch.
You can also ask staff members to share stories on Whatsapp and Instagram and post about your program on different Facebook groups to spread the word.

c. Do not forget the power of emails

Average open rate for emails is 23.42%. This means every time you forgo email campaigns for your referral program, you leave a 23.42% chance of success on the table. 

For your referral program, send targeted emails that provide detailed information about the incentives participants can receive for referring new families. Communicate how tuition credits or discounts will be applied, and explain any terms and conditions. 

You can also set up automated reminders to gently nudge your customers to participate in the referral program and remind them of the benefits they stand to receive. 

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d. Make the most of the season

Seasonal campaigns like ‘Back to School’ is a good opportunity to get the most out of your childcare referral programs. During this time, parents are looking for centers to enroll their kids. 

Start your campaign a month or two before the reopening to let your ambassadors spread the message and give their network time to prepare for their child’s enrollment. 

3. Track your childcare referral program’s success

Your childcare referral program’s success depends on how many enrollments you receive via recommendations. While this is s simple metric, you might receive referrals from different platforms. 

Since we are leveraging our existing customers, using common platforms like Google Forms or Airtable is helpful to create a unified document that stores all the referral information. In these forms, you can add a question, “Can you please tell us how you got to know about our center?” Give them the option to mention their friend/relative who can be your existing customer. This helps track referrals from your immediate circle. 

If you go for social media campaigns, referral codes are the best. Offer your ambassadors unique codes to share with their community and help you track their deployment rate. This can also give an insight into how active your referrers are and enables you to save time and money. 

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Do not miss out on the benefits of a childcare referral program

A robust childcare referral program can offer significant benefits to your center, existing parents of the students, and potential customers. Here are major reasons you should not miss out on a childcare referral program:

Increase enrollment and revenue

Existing parents who are satisfied with the center’s services are likelier to refer friends, family members, and colleagues, leading to larger student enrollment and increased revenue.

High-quality enrollments

Referred families are more likely to align with the childcare center’s values and educational approach, resulting in a higher quality of enrollments. This can lead to improved classroom dynamics, more positive interactions among students and parents, and an overall better learning environment.

Cost-effective marketing

Referral programs can be a cost-effective alternative to traditional marketing efforts. By relying on satisfied parents to spread the word, pre-schools can reduce advertising expenses while targeting a more engaged and receptive audience.

Work the magic of childcare referral programs

Childcare referral is not an overnight success and requires strategy, and a strong community, both of which require time. It is important to foster relationships with your existing parent community before moving on to adding more members. 

Stay in touch with parents who have referred your services, asking them for their feedback regarding your referral program and what can be better, and their expectations, to name a few. You can always have better relationship management and more innovative incentives to the mix, which will heighten the impact of the overall program. 

When you combine rewards with relationships, you get more than a childcare referral program, you get a robust and reliable community.

We are sure these strategies will bring in more enrollments and keep you busy for the rest of the year. 

So why not let Illumine manage your day-to-day operations for you while you focus on focusing better relationships and overall growth?

Make your parent referral program a success by upgrading the quality of your center with Illumine. Try our platform!

Sign up for a demo today.

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