by Twila L. Gates, RN, IMC, SCAC

Credentialing seems to be on our minds these days and rightfully so. This is the first in a series of articles discussing the various activities and milestones for organizations that offer certification/credentialing for their profession.

Starting a credentialing organization is certainly not a weekend task. There are issues around defining the competencies to be tested and around the test that will measure them. There are also issues around making the testing process fair and free of inappropriate influences.

The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) was created “to help ensure the health, welfare, and safety of the public through the accreditation of a variety of certification programs/organizations that assess professional competence.”

Because the NCCA standards revolve around time-proven processes for certification, organizations with NCCA seal of approval prove their integrity around their own professional competencies.

(Wondering about the ISO? Read more here about the difference between these organizations.)

One of the problems of not embracing the requirements of the NCCA is of particular importance to ADHD Coaches: The possibility of state regulation. Our credentialing organization will be examined by outside authorities more thoroughly because of our clientele. If our credentials can’t withstand scrutiny, we may be a big step behind in the discussion with any state regarding licensing of ADHD Coaches. A respected certifying body would be better able to act as a self-regulating organization that is taking action to protect the public.

Even if accreditation by the NCCA is not immediately critical, their standards offer a clear guide to creating a strong foundation for the association in the spirit and integrity of a well functioning non-profit professional certifying organization. And of course, it is a much easier task to obtain accreditation later when the association has been organized from the outset to meet NCCA standards.

Any important non profit organization must be incorporated at the very least to protect the people who sit on its board. But more importantly incorporation facilitates centralized management and plans for the sustainability of the organization.

This process includes three specific steps:

  1. draft the articles of incorporation,
  2. draft the bylaws, and
  3. apply for corporate status from the state in which the corporation operates.

The Articles of Incorporation (or Charter) are a pretty standard document. The necessary information included is available from the state government. Bylaws, on the other hand, must be written specifically for the organization being built. The application for corporate status, again, is form driven by the state government.

Only after all these steps have been completed can an organization apply to the IRS for nonprofit status. The final approval is based on a long but pretty straight forward application. Only with this approval is an organization allowed to call itself “nonprofit.”

Nonprofit Status
There are several kinds of nonprofit organizations. Common ones include:

  • 501(c)(3) organizations which are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, or one of several other classifications of organizations allowed by the IRS.
  • 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code provides for tax exemption of business leagues, chambers of commerce, real estate boards and boards of trade, to name a few.

Business leagues, like the ACO and, most likely, a certifying body, are supposed “to improv[e] business conditions of one or more lines of business.” They are not charitable organizations, magnanimous groups acting out of kindness, consideration, generally humanity, or sympathy. They exist for the good of the profession. Contributions made to a 501(c) 6 are not tax deductible as a charitable contribution. (They may be deductible as a business expense, but get that advice from your tax professional.)

Bylaws for a certifying organization
By far, the most complicated step in the life of a new organization is the creation of the bylaws. These must be designed specifically for each organization. They are very different for profitable and nonprofit businesses. And because nonprofit organizations come in a variety of types, a standard template is inadequate and seldom includes the parts needed to build a certifying organization.

Here’s an example: In order to maintain the position as a completely disinterested party, a test evaluator may not be influenced by any outside source, certainly not by any single school and neither by pressure from the Board of Directors. In order to keep this separation clear, the board of a certifying organization must have two separate bodies set up to do separate things. One body (we’ll call it the Executive Board) is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the organization, including issues of education, complaint investigations and membership activities. The other (Credentialing Board) governs the operation of the credentialing/certification processes. These boards must function completely independently of each other to ensure the integrity of all aspects of the certification process and to prevent any possible appearance of impropriety.

Extrapolating the NCCA requirements to an ADHD-coach-certifying body
(The following points relate to specific NCCA standards listed in the resources below)

  1. For objective and ethical reasons the Credentialing Board members may not own or be involved in any manner with the training, for profit, of ADHD coaches. In addition, no trainer or training organization may be made privy to the certification assessments as this would promote unfair advantage. The certifying program must “protect against undue influence that could compromise the integrity of the certification process.” No trainer or training organization may be allowed to promote it’s specific methods or training preferences upon the organization’s development of the certification assessments, rather profession-wide information is to be utilized.
  2. The Credentialing Board must have “autonomy in decision making regarding important aspects of the certification program” including eligibility standards, assessment process and procedures and selection of assessors. This means the of Executive Board may not influence the Credentialing Board in any manner that might impact the integrity of the certification process. For example, It is inappropriate to require that a certification candidate must be a paid member of the organization.
  3. There must be a way for ensuring appropriate involvement on the Credentialing Board by stake holders (people affected by the testing process). There must also be policies and procedures to prevent inappropriate influence from the outside. The Credentialing Board must include representatives with various training backgrounds as well as public (consumer) members.
  4. One of the most interesting and important requirements, in my opinion, is that the “program must have sufficient financial resources to conduct effective and thorough certification and recertification activities.” This operating budget must come from the certification process. Contributions must be made to the membership side of the organization rather than to the credentialing side in order to assure that there is not even an appearance that the donor may have special treatment around or access to the certification process.

My research brings up many more questions. In subsequent articles, additional information I have uncovered in my research over the last several years will provide insight on the following issues:

  1. If educators cannot be involved in development of the certification assessments, how do we get solid development of assessments in the first place?
  2. How do you create eligibility requirements and certification assessments that are based on competency?
  3. What are competencies? Who should be involved in the development of ones that assessments can be based on?

Until next time–all comments are appreciated! If you would like me to answer a specific question in an upcoming article, please let me know.

Twila L. Gates, RN, IMC, SCAC
PowerSystems ADHD Coaching

This article was contributed to by K. Kerchner McConlogue, CPCC, PCC


National Commission for Certifying Agencies. (2007 ed.) Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs. Retrieved August 24, 2008 from

Standard 2A (pp. 6 – 7): The certifying program must show that the governance structure, policies, and procedures that have been established protect against undue influence that could compromise the integrity of the certification process.

Standard 2B (pp. 6- 7): The governance structure, policies, and procedures must provide for autonomy in decision making regarding important aspects of the certification program, such as eligibility standards; the development, administration, and scoring of the assessment instruments; selection of personnel; and operational processes.

Standard 3 (p. 7): The certification board or governing committee of the certification program must include individuals from the certified population, as well as voting representation from at least one consumer or public member. For entities offering more than one certification program, a system must be in place through which all certified populations are represented, with voting rights, on the certification board or governing committee.

Standard 3A (pp. 8-9): A system or structure must be established for ensuring appropriate stakeholder involvement by designating certain representative positions on the governing body. To ensure a balance of program input, the governing body may implement a rotating system of representation over a set period of time.

Standard 3B (p.8): The certification program must establish bylaws and/or policies and procedures for the selection of individuals who serve on the board or governing committee. This information must show that the selection of these individuals prevents inappropriate influence from a parent or outside body.

Standard 4 (p.9): The certification program must have sufficient financial resources to conduct effective and thorough certification and recertification activities.

Additional Resources of Interest: