How a Credentialing Program Can Fuel Global Growth

digital 3-d globe with bar chart in background July 19, 2016 By: Emily Bratcher

According to a recent survey, most associations think that membership numbers are the best way to gauge success in their globalization efforts—but are they? One association found that focusing on its credentialing program drove substantial growth in both international credential holders and international members.

How should an association measure international success? In the recently released 2016 Association Global Growth Trends Survey Report by Globalstrat, a company that provides international growth strategies to associations, nearly 50 percent of respondents agreed that membership growth was the best way to gauge how well an association was doing in the area of globalization.

But are membership numbers really the best way to measure success in the international space?

The number of new, retained, and engaged members is one good metric with which to measure the health and growth of an association, but it’s not the only one. And Terrance Barkan, founder of Globalstrat, says it’s not necessarily the most important metric for associations expanding into the global market.

International markets place a much higher value on certifications and credentials than they do for membership.—Terrance Barkan, Globalstrat

“As the survey results showed, most associations lead with membership in international markets,” Barkan says. “However, membership value is often difficult to deliver unless you have critical mass in a given country. For many associations that are trying to expand and grow internationally, leading with live events, training, and certification programs can often be a more successful approach.”

Investing in its own credentialing program certainly helped the International Coach Federation expand its global reach.

“We had less than 2,000 individuals holding active credentials, back 11 years ago when I started,” says Magdalena Mook, executive director and CEO of ICF. The credential has to be renewed every three years, so the number of credentials awarded is much greater than the number of people who carry the active credential. And this makes ICF’s exponential growth even more extraordinary: Right now, the organization has more than 18,700 individuals holding active credentials.

What accounts for this explosion of growth?

The answer is multifaceted. First, ICF focused on translating its written exam into different languages. And because part of the credentialing exam involves role-playing an actual coaching session, ICF hired people who spoke those languages to assess that part of the exam.

“That was really quite a hurdle, and not a cheap proposition,” Mook says.

The need for translators is ongoing. When professional criteria or standards change, Mook says, “there is a need for updates, upgrades, tweaks [to the exam], and if you have so many languages, then the tweaks have to be made in all of those languages.”

International promotion of the credential also helped drive its growth, Mook says. ICF pushed out the message that “if you are professional, you will obtain that designation because you are serious about what you are doing.”

They also talked to businesses hiring coaches, getting the word out that “the credential was a very clear sign that this individual has been trained, has been evaluated independently, and so it is a greater promise, if you will, of quality and excellence.”

All of this work paid off.

“Partly through word of mouth and partially through our promotional and marketing efforts, many corporations, organizations, governments—you name it—actually required the credential. … When that started happening, our credential almost became a de facto requirement,” Mook says.

Barkan says focusing on certification and credentialing programs in the global sphere is a smart move.

“International markets place a much higher value on certifications and credentials than they do for membership,” he says. “There are several reasons why. Firstly, most countries do not have the ‘culture’ of joining associations that exists in the U.S. and that has been with us from the founding of this country. Secondly, credentials and certifications can be directly and immediately leveraged in the work environment to obtain better employment and wages. This is especially true in very competitive emerging markets.”

Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a contributing editor at Associations Now.