An association credential can be a career booster for the professional who holds it, conveying prestige and signaling the holder's knowledge and expertise. But administering a credentialing program is no easy task for the association that runs it.
Even so, for many organizations it's a worthwhile investment of time, money, and other resources, according to new research from the ASAE Foundation and North Carolina State University's Institute for Nonprofits.
"The main research question that we were trying to answer was 'Are these types of programs of value to associations?' The answer clearly was yes," says Mary Tschirhart, Ph.D., the institute's director. "These programs are serving a wide range of stakeholders with a wide range of benefits."
Profit or loss?
Of the 228 credentialing programs examined in the ASAE Foundation study, 203 provided details about financial outcomes.
60% showed a net profit
24% broke even
16% had a net loss
59% expect revenue to increase
2% expect revenue to decrease
Source: The Benefits of Credentialing Programs to Membership Associations, ASAE Foundation, 2013
The research showed that the benefits—including increased prestige and a competitive advantage for credential holders, promotion of ethical conduct, and safeguarding the public, among others—can vary depending on the industry and the design of the credentialing program. Tschirhart says that's no surprise.
"Managers of credentialing programs are not trying to go after all the possible benefits. They're choosing which benefits they believe matter most to their members and then matching the design and delivery of the program to those interests," she says.
The research found that for many associations, there is a clear business case for involvement in credentialing.
Of the 228 association leaders and credentialing representatives who responded to the survey, roughly 95 percent said the credential provides some benefit to the organization when it comes to reinforcing its values. More than 80 percent said that credentialed members are more likely to stay with the association, and more than 70 percent said the credential helps with member recruitment.
Credentialing also enhances engagement. "Members who have the creden-tial tend to be much more active in the association," Tschirhart says. "They are more likely to hold leadership positions in the association, be leaders in their profession or industry, participate in association activities, and be retained as members."
Tschirhart hopes to capture the perspective of the credential holder in future iterations of the study.
"It'd be interesting to see if the same sets of benefits that association leaders and credential managers identify are the ones that the credential seekers and holders see," she says.