There are endless lessons associations can learn from history, culture, business and the world around us. The Professionals for Association Revenue will explore these connections with longer format articles to help readers draw inspiration for their own work.

By Carolyn Shomali, PAR

As consumers, we look for help when it comes to making purchasing decisions. We use word of mouth, customer reviews and competitor comparisons to navigate a myriad of buying choices for everything from household cleaning supplies to new cars.

Each of these endorsements amounts to a proverbial ‘seal of approval’ that helps us feel confident in our buying decisions. Buyers place value in the opinion or endorsement of a trusted source – and association members do the same.

Dr. Michael Tatonetti, CPP, CAE of Pricing for Associations says associations should keep this in mind when examining their own unique value propositions.

“All associations should ponder being the seal of approval for knowledge and best practices,” Tatonetti says.

Two notable ways associations already offer a seal of approval is through certification programs and compilations of association-endorsed solution providers.

Consider the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) whose CAE certification is a coveted distinction among association professionals. Additionally, its ASAE Curated Collection provides a list of ASAE-backed solution providers that are assessed “on a variety of criteria including their commitment to the association and nonprofit sector, reputation, financial stability, and customer service and support capabilities.”

These are very tangible ways to utilize a seal of approval. When you see a colleague with a CAE certification, you know their association skills are backed by ASAE's certification program. And when you are considering a new solution provider, you can explore an ASAE Business Solution provider with confidence.

But there are other, less literal ways that associations can exercise their own seal.

“The benefits of your association are the articles you post and the speakers you have. They provide good information and your association is putting your name on it compared to something that is random,” Tatonetti says.

This translates into a seal of approval that isn’t necessarily stated, but one that can provide a great deal of value for associations. To better understand what it means to put our association’s approval behind our offerings, we took a deep dive into one of the original and most notable seals of all time: The Good Housekeeping Seal.

Sour Milk and the Search for Perfection

Good Housekeeping magazine launched in 1856 with a mission to “to produce and perpetuate perfection — or as near unto perfection as may be attained in the household."

Whatever idea of perfection the magazine founders idealized in the mid-1800s evolved into something quite different by the end of the century. By 1900, 40% of Americans lived in cities – a large shift from the 95% of Americans that lived in rural areas just 100-years earlier. The way food was prepared and consumed changed drastically, and alerting readers to that new reality became a staple of Good Housekeeping in the early 1900s.

Consumers sought guidance as food options continued to grow and new labor saving appliances were unveiled. Good Housekeeping's original mission to "produce and perpetuate perfection" took on new meaning - perfection in the household would begin by sharing safe food and proven amenities with readers.

So Good Housekeeping launched the Experimentation Station where scientists could test food, recipes and household appliances. The results were shared with readers and the reviews became a popular staple of the magazine.

By 1909, the Good Housekeeping Seal was unveiled “to signify that a product had passed the Institute’s exhaustive testing and delivered on the claims it promised.” There were 21-products on the first list and an estimated 500,000 products have earned the seal of approval since its inception.

Great history lesson, right? But is it relevant to our associations?

Here are our top takeaways as we examine how association messaging, educational offerings and programs could benefit from our own inferred association seal of approval.

Value begins with trust. Good Housekeeping readers sought out the results of the Experimentation Station for one reason: they trusted the magazine to help them solve a problem. The publication established that trust over many years with scientifically backed articles and rigorously tested product reviews.

  • Tip: Our association’s value is directly tied to our members trust in us. Every article we post or educational session we host has our inferred seal of approval on it. Are we setting high standards and ensuring that our content and educational offerings meet that level of trust?

Value is backed with guarantees. Products earning the Good Housekeeping Seal are backed by a two-year limited warranty. The Institute promises a replacement or refund up to $2,000 if a Seal product becomes defective within two years of purchase. According to Good Housekeeping Editor-in-Chief Jane Francisco, no other media recommendation or accolades program comes with a guarantee.

  • Tip: If your association has a certification program, what kind of guarantees are you providing to its recipients? Is your information the most up to date of its kind? Are you actively seeking new ideas and resources to share with your community? When you host an educational session or share an article, is the information the most current in the industry?

As competition continues to increase for association audiences, Tatonetti says associations need to clearly define their value.

“What is your association doing and why does your audience need you? It is important to say how you are different.”

Value grows with big ideas. In 2023, it’s common for the food industry to face public scrutiny, but in the early 1900s that was rare. During that time period, Good Housekeeping questioned food additives and production methods. It wasn’t well-received by the food industry but it garnered respect from readers. This eventually led to the development of the Good Housekeeping Seal and ushered in a new era in which products are tested and reviewed to offer consumers insights they couldn’t easily obtain independently.

  • Tip: What are the new practices within your industry that need review? Are you advocating on behalf of your members to bring them the most up-to-date information? Would you put your own association-backed seal of approval on the information you share, even if it’s at times critical of your industry?

Value evolves into new offerings. Since the debut of the Good Housekeping Seal in 1909, it has evolved into four additional seals: The Green Good Housekeeping, The Good Housekeeping Innovation Emblem, The Good Housekeping Humanitarian Seal and The Good Housekeeping Nutritionist Approved Emblem. This underscores the reality clear and trusted value can expand into other areas and offerings.

  • Tip: Could you apply your association’s unique value to new offerings? How would you describe the meaning of your association’s proverbial seal of approval? Do all of your association programs, communications and offerings live up to the standards of the seal?

When considering your association’s unique value, first determine if you are a trustworthy source. Then consider how that trust can be used to develop your very own association seal of approval. Whether it is literal (like a certification program or association-backed provider endorsement) or inferred (like the articles and educational offerings you produce) your members will value an endorsement they can trust.