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How Hard is Your Credentialing Program?


By: Rob Stott

Summary: A recent study from the ASAE Foundation and North Carolina State University shows that members find greater value in a difficult credentialing program. (Titled "Rigor Matters" in print edition.)

Each year, associations put a vast amount of time and resources into the development and administration of credentialing programs. With a wide variety of program models available, it's important for an organization to understand what its members find most valuable.

The ASAE Foundation, in conjunction with the North Carolina State University's Institute for Nonprofits, recently completed a study that dove into the perceived and actual benefits of credentialing programs to membership associations; how they affect member recruitment, retention, and engagement; and what impact the rigor level has on the value of the credential. To gather data, researchers administered two web-based surveys—one to association leaders, the other to managers of credentialing programs—and conducted telephone interviews and an analysis of websites and application documents from 228 credentialing programs.

"The report provides strong evidence that there are a myriad of benefits to associations from their sponsorship or management of a credentialing program," says Mary Tschirhart, Ph.D., the institute's director. "These benefits go beyond the net financial gain for those who want the program to do more than break even. A credentialing program can also enhance an association's visibility; increase the recruitment, retention, and involvement of association members; and bring other benefits."

Findings from the report show a direct correlation between the credentialing program's rigor level and the level of benefit reported by members.

"In general, the more difficult it is to obtain and keep a credential, the more value it offers to the association and to the credential holder," says Tschirhart. "Those that simply require the payment of a fee and an easy application have the least reported benefits."

The characteristics of a credentialing program can influence its perceived value to your members, says Tschirhart.

"These findings can inform the design and delivery of a credentialing program to maximize the benefits of most interest."

Rob Stott is editorial assistant at Assocaitions Now in Washington, DC. Email:

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