Four Keys to Consider Before Starting a Certification Program

Many trade and professional associations use individual certification or company-wide accreditation programs to promote the professionalism of their members and the standards of the industries they serve.


A certification program, however, is about more than just setting up a test and allowing those who pass to use a designation behind their names. Your association should be aware of and have a plan for handling the potential liabilities, administrative workload and participant expectations prior to launching such a program.

Here are several important considerations to keep in mind before starting a certification or accreditation program:


1. Don’t start the program solely to become a revenue source

Credentialing programs can, indeed, produce income for your organization. But a program shouldn’t be created solely to do this. The heart of a program is about meeting a broader need, whether it’s for the professional development of an individual or to raise the bar for the entire industry. Design the program with these needs in mind and understand it might be a long road before this program becomes financially lucrative.


2. Properly allocate resources to marketing the program

“If you build it, they will come,” is not a sustainable marketing strategy. Your organization must identify the value proposition for this program and be able to communicate it both inside and outside of your organization. The program must have an identifiable brand of its own in order to be recognized and respected. This will require a thoughtful and strategic ongoing marketing plan, not just a quick push during the launch of the program.


3. Understand the administrative roadblocks

There are many administrative details to track in a credentialing program. From continuing education credits to who has applied to what information is required to when each participant has to renew his or her certification, credentialing programs require significant manpower on an ongoing basis. Administratively, renewals can be as time consuming as launching the program to begin with, and many organizations underestimate the time it takes to review and process these.


4. Enforcement

The best certification and accreditation programs hold prestige in their industry. Those who obtain it have demonstrated their knowledge of and commitment to upholding professional standards and requirements—the program isn’t simply a “rubber stamp” or certificate of completion.

Because of this, it’s important to protect your program’s reputation. Protect your program by trademarking it and making sure you have a plan for enforcement. You should stand ready with a plan for what your organization would do if, for example, someone fraudulently claimed he or she held your credential. This could include earmarking funds for legal representation in such cases.


If your organization begins a certification or accreditation program, you must be all in or stay out. For the credential holders, it is serious. They are committing to your program via time and money and expect to see benefits as a result. Credentialing programs can be costly to maintain, market and uphold, so ensure your organization is fully willing to commit to meeting participant and industry needs before starting the program.