Credentialing programs (i.e. personnel certification, accreditation) can provide associations with a competitive advantage to attract and retain members. But before your association jumps into a credentialing program, take the time to ask the right questions. SOLUTiONS talked with Randy Lindner, president, Bostrom and a nationally-recognized expert in credentialing programs, about what associations need to consider before they create such a program.

SOLUTiONS: How can a credentialing program benefit an association’s membership?

Lindner: A credential is a symbol of competency or a commitment to high standards. It demonstrates that an individual or organization has met certain criteria and has made a commitment to conducting their work or program according to specific (and typically higher) standards. And it can differentiate and add value to a professional’s area of practice or an organization’s commitment to quality. Individual certification or organizational accreditation helps to improve the quality of practice, product or services, regardless of the profession or industry. Credentials are one of the ways that employers – and consumers – evaluate professional competencies or quality.

SOLUTiONS: Are credentialing programs a good source of revenue?

Lindner: Credentialing programs are an investment – in your association, your membership and their professional areas of practice. While some association leaders may consider credentialing programs as a revenue source because of the educational components involved, they may not, and their primary purpose should not be viewed as revenue generators. Rather, it’s critical to identify how – or if – such a program fits within your organization’s overall mission. An organization’s leadership must consider what it will take in terms of human and financial capital to implement a successful credentialing program.

SOLUTiONS: How does an association determine if it’s ready to pursue a credentialing program?

Lindner: An organizational assessment is often the first step in determining the validity of a credentialing program for a particular association. Assessments are often thought of or conducted when an organization is not performing well. But the best time to conduct an assessment is when an organization is financially strong, maintains high levels of member and volunteer engagement, a capable staff, and an ongoing commitment to both continuous quality improvement and demonstrating value and relevance to its membership. We worked with a client that was managed well and wanted to identify some strategies for “getting to the next level.” We conducted focus groups, benchmarking and trends analyses and gathered data from accrediting bodies. Our assessment concluded that a credentialing program at that particular juncture was appropriate. Bostrom can provide its expertise at any stage in a credentialing program and/or help an association meet third-party accrediting standards.

SOLUTiONS: How do you promote a credentialing program?

Lindner: Bostrom helps clients educate their members and their members’ key audiences (often the general public) about the value of a credential. Many industries or professions have standards and/or certifications that are known widely. For example, many people recognize the value behind a “UL approved” electrical device; professional certifications provide a similar value. Bostrom can help clients market their credential through a process that promotes an understanding of the value proposition and developing a brand profile that reflects it.