501c3 or c6 for Certification: Does it matter?
Bill Gates, Not as You Would Imagine

Do you need a hammer?

At the recent ASAE & The Center Great Ideas Conference, an attendee that I had just met asked me an interesting question; he said, "I've read a lot of your writings lately, and I can't tell so I was wondering....are you an advocate of certification or not?"

This shocked me initially because I guess I'd always thought of myself as a certification advocate, I'm a certification consultant for goodness sake.  But then clarity hit and I realized how many organizations have chosen to develop programs other than certification based on my counsel.  My response to him:  If certification is really right for the field, then I'm an advocate.  If it's not, then I'm not.  We proceeded to have a discussion about his certification program and the reasons certification may or may not be right for an organization, and what alternatives there are.  Then I asked him, "If you had NOT developed a certification program, would your field look any different than it does today."  A little sheepishly, he said no, was silent for a minute and then said, "I wish I'd have met you four years ago."  You see, there was a certification consultant who helped him build a  psychometrically sound and legally defensible program - unfortunately it's not really needed by the market.

So, here's my plea.  If you are considering developing a certification program, do NOT send out an RFP to certification consultants and/or testing agencies asking them to help you build it.  Why?  Because they just might help you build a really expensive program that has no impact!   Invest the time and resources to determine if certification would make the impact you  desire.  You might be surprised to find certification isn't the answer (or maybe it is).  There's a big toolbox out there -- certification, certificates, accreditation, awards, member classification systems, professional development, among many others.  Figure out what you're trying to build BEFORE you invest in one tool.  And if advisors are only selling one tool (usually certification), take great pause before signing that contract.    I don't believe anyone would intentionally try to sell you a program you don't need.  It's just that, if all you're selling is a hammer, everything tends to look like a nail.

Note:  many of the writings my colleague was referring to are included in the book and blog of the same name: We Have Always Done It That Way:  101 Things About Associations We Must Change.


Dave S.


Great post and advice in general. I think it transcends credentialing and can be applied to any activity that an association does to create member value. The moral of the story, which I think you captured beautifully: Will what you are doing positively impact your members or change the impact your members can/will have on the field? If not, on either count, why are you doing it?

I think too many associations, probably organizations in general are looking for that one "silver bullet" that changes the game completely instead of looking for what they can do incrementally or as part of a broader context that will have a positive impact.

Whether it is credentialing, technology, or other programs, products or services I think the bottom line is pretty clear, instead of doing what everyone else is doing consider your organizations culture and the needs of the members and ask yourself (or your board, team or whoever is charged with the project) whether it makes sense in the grander scheme of things. If it doesn't your time is probably better spent doing something else. And after all, isn't time one of our most valuable resources.

Really thought provoking! Thanks for sharing the story.

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