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Good governance, management, financial planning, and volunteers all impact the delivery of association products and services

In today’s fast changing world of association governance and management, the most important and ongoing challenge for association leaders is to ensure relevancy for, and manage the expectations of, its membership. Very few association members today obtain and maintain membership in their associations just to support the cause or profession. Instead, they want their association to provide the latest and greatest products and services that ensures value added service and opportunities for personal and professional growth. The challenge for associations, especially with revenues often in decline, is to ensure it has the resources (human, financial, technological, etc.), and the best governance and management structures and systems in place to provide what their members want, need, and sometimes, quite bluntly, ask for.

While not a traditional product or service, I believe that earning a formal accreditation from the licensing body of an association’s sector, or a related one, is one means of ensuring that an association is able to deliver on what their members want and expect. How might this be possible you ask? This is a legitimate question and the best way to answer it is to briefly outline my association’s experience with Imagine Canada Standards Program and accreditation process.

Imagine Canada Accreditation & Trustmark

In May 2014, my association, the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association – Newfoundland (CHHA-NL) was granted formal accreditation (see Trustmark image and licensing requirements below) by Imagine Canada (the umbrella organization for charities and non-profits in Canada), under their Standards Program which was introduced in 2012, after a six-year development process. The official announcement by Imagine Canada recognized twenty-seven new organizations that received accreditation, which brings the total in Canada to 109 (CHHA-NL is the first in NL). The full list of accredited organizations in Canada can be viewed at:

TAAarticle2ENG July202015 LeonAMills dj15“The Standards Program Trustmark signals that an organization has demonstrated compliance with each of the Imagine Canada Standards. The accredited organization is permitted to use the Trustmark annually for a period of five years, contingent on demonstrating ongoing compliance via the completion of an annual compliance report and license fee. The Standard Programs goals are to build excellence within Canada’s charities and non-profits through common standards of practice and to strengthen confidence in the sector. Accredited organizations are awarded a program Trustmark so they can showcase this achievement in their materials, such as tax receipts, program brochures, websites, and more.”

Accreditation and its Importance for Associations

I strongly believe that participation in an accreditation process is extremely important for all associations regardless of type, size of membership or annual revenues. Participation in any such process is demanding, time-consuming and carries a cost, however the impact on the association, its governance, management, leadership, and staff, can and should lead to positive product and service delivery outcomes for members as a by-product.

According to the Imagine Canada website:

The Standards Program is a set of shared standards for charities and nonprofits designed to strengthen practices in five fundamental areas: board governance, financial accountability and transparency; fundraising; staff management; and volunteer involvement.

There are seventy-three standards divided across these five categories and, using the Standards Program Guide, associations must provide evidence of policies, procedures or best practices that exist within the association, via completion of an online web based form that, once completed is electronically signed off by the association’s President and individual that completed the form (usually the Chief Staff Officer). It is then submitted for a preliminary review by Imagine Canada program staff who provide valuable feedback on areas that need improvement. Subsequently, it is formally submitted to an independent review panel of respected leaders from the sector who will decide whether accreditation is approved, or if further improvements to the submission are needed before another review is granted, and accreditation is approved or rejected.

There are three levels to the Standards Program, and an association’s designated level is based on the size of an association’s membership and its annual revenues. While the process took significant time and effort to complete, I felt it was well worth the effort for our association and ultimately its members, as it helped demonstrate to everyone in the association what we were doing well and what needed to be improved in all levels of the organization. In the May 2014 press release announcing the list of newly accredited organizations, Imagine Canada used a number of quotes from program participants, regarding their impressions and what was learned, one of which was mine, which stated:

“Our participation in the Standards Program has strengthened our association as it ‘forced’ us to take a very top to bottom review of the key elements involved in running an association and created a benchmark to compare against. I encourage all associations in Canada to participate in this program; there is a lot of work involved and some commitment of resources, but the outcomes will be well worth the effort.”

Accreditation is not a Traditional Product or Service

As I noted above, the accreditation process, on its own, is not a traditional or direct product or service for members, rather, it’s the means to an end - it will contribute to improved development and delivery of programs and services for association members moving forward. Perhaps the best way I can state my point is to use a quote from the CSAE’s publication, Canadian Association Management, to which I contributed Chapter 13 – Products and Services. To close the chapter, I noted the following:

“To increase value to current members, to attract new ones, and to deliver new programs and services and develop new revenue streams as cost-effectively as possible, associations must learn new ways of conducting their business to ensure future success. They must act ‘outside-their-box’, to become high performance associations that deliver high performance products and services. The astute association manager recognizes and acts on the correlation between being a high performance association and the delivery of high performance products and services. The means to do this is through the application of change processes, innovative thinking, the recognition of association and other trends, new technology and not-for-profit intelligence.”

The key phrases in this quote are – acting ‘outside-their-box’ to become high performance associations that deliver high performance products and services and the application of change processes. After our association’s participation in the Imagine Canada Standards Program, I strongly believe that other associations would also benefit from such participation as it ‘forces’ one to take a top-to-bottom review of all aspects of running their association – governance, management, financial, fund development and volunteers, and of course, how all of those affect the effective development and delivery of programs and services. Participation in this review process, even if accreditation isn’t earned, is still very useful as it helps an association to know its deficiencies and strengths and to become better organized and managed and in doing so, the association’s members will receive better programs and services.

The latter is, after all, what an association’s members expect and I believe that earning an accreditation will help to ensure that an association becomes, and continues to be, a high performance association. It will be an association that will earn the respect and tangible support of its members who will retain their membership in the association, not just to support the cause or profession, but because it makes sound business sense to do so, and that they’re highly satisfied with the products and services they receive from the association by way of membership.