Is Your Association Ready to Offer Credentialing?

A strong understanding of your association’s membership, mixed with a willingness to play the long game, can lead to credentialing success, says an accreditation pro at the Institute for Credentialing Excellence.

As far as value-creating member offerings go, credentialing programs are one of the strongest ways for associations to best serve both their members and the industry at large.

But for associations that don’t yet offer credentialing programs, it might not be clear what should drive the overall approach.

Determining the “why” behind credentialing is an important starting point for many organizations. Linda K. Anguish, director of accreditation services at the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE), said that a key factor is to ensure that any proposed credentialing program ties into the association’s overall mission and goals.

“Identifying why the organization wants or needs a credentialing program is an important first step,” Anguish said. “Is it to elevate the profession? To create safeguards for public protection? To provide recognition for professionals with specific skills or competencies? To distinguish the association or its members in the marketplace?”

Determining those outcomes helps define not only if accreditation is the appropriate approach, she explained, “but also what success will look like.”

Where Members Come Into Play

Many of the factors that go into whether an association is ready for a credentialing program are driven by the market the organization serves, which means that members (often the intended audience for any credentialing program) can play a role in what the final result looks like.

Anguish said an association’s understanding of its member base should be a starting point for different forms of sector analysis, including surveys, market research, and job-analysis studies.

“It is important for the association to understand not only its members’ interest in earning a credential, but their readiness to do so,” she said.

And the answer might be that they’re not ready. Anguish noted that ICE itself ran into this situation more than a decade ago. As it weighed building a professional credentialing course for its members, the association conducted a job-analysis study. “What the study results revealed was that the profession had not yet matured to the point where a certification program would meet the needs of a majority of participants,” she said.

Instead, ICE built a self-directed online program, called the Certificate Program for the Credentialing Specialist. Only after member demand for a full credential program grew did the association launch its ICE-CCP (ICE Certified Credentialing Professional) certification.

“Creating a credentialing program involves a great deal of preliminary analysis and ongoing commitment on the part of an association,” Anguish added. “At the same time, associations are uniquely positioned to offer such programs, and if done well, they can do much to enhance the association’s reputation, drive growth, and advance the profession the association serves.”

Determining Readiness

There are a lot of reasons to build a credentialing program—for one thing, Anguish notes that it can produce a stable pipeline for future organizational growth. But many organizations do not budget enough for one of the most important aspects of credentialing: understanding, developing, and maintaining the resources that will keep the program running.

“The organization must devote sufficient resources to keep the program relevant and offer value to its stakeholders,” she said. “This encompasses not only staff time and contracted services, but also a supply of subject matter experts (generally volunteers).”

Speaking of budgets, Anguish said it is important to understand that while a credentialing program can be a consistent revenue source, it could take years for associations to see ROI from their investments. (On top of that, external factors, such as COVID-19, can create challenges for a credentialing program.)

Furthermore, eliminating a program can be a hit to an organization’s reputation.

“Therefore, it is wise not to be overly ambitious in the early stages of a program’s development,” Anguish said. With that in mind, she recommended emphasizing market research in building a program to limit the number of changes needed later on.

Understanding Success

While no two organizations will have the same goals for a credentialing program, there may be clear signs that a program is working.

“Demand for the credential, demonstrated by meeting enrollment and renewal targets, as well as evidence that the industry has a preference for credential holders in hiring or promotion decisions are good indicators,” Anguish said.

Researching and measuring how the program is performing could position the program for sustained success. After all, if the organization can pull it off, the long-term potential can be strong, even bringing in new types of members.

“Ultimately, high-quality credentialing programs benefit employers, professions, occupations, and the general public,” Anguish said.

(Neydtstock/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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