Body of Knowledge Documents Provide Focus and Increase Value
For members of nonprofit professional associations, very few benefits rank higher than education. Furthermore, education is often one of the best ways for an association to differentiate itself from competing organizations. Some associations are taking advantage of these demands by leveraging body of knowledge (BOK) efforts to focus and drive their educational programs.

At the most basic level, a BOK is a document that clearly defines the essential competencies, skill sets and principles for a given job classification or profession. Associations can use BOKs as blueprints to provide education to meet the professional development needs of members. At an organizational level, BOKs are also strategic assets that influence priorities, identify information and education gaps, reveal market trends, highlight thought leadership, strengthen member retention and increase member value.

APRA: Volunteers Ensure Differentiation

The Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA) — which serves 2,100 professionals in prospect development, the strategic arm of fundraising operations in the nonprofit education and healthcare communities — has provided its members with relevant education for many years. However, the board recognized an opportunity to distinguish the association from other organizations in its space through its education offerings. To do so, the board needed to restructure its current offerings into a clear and easy-to-navigate program. Last year, APRA responded by launching its BOK — a 30-page document that is now the authoritative blueprint for career development within the prospect development profession.

Once APRA’s board prioritized development of its BOK as a strategic imperative, it approached its members and asked for volunteers to become the architects.

“We found asking our members to take on this challenge raised their affinity for the organization,” said Jennifer MacCormack, president-elect of APRA. “They understood the industry dynamics, and they were contributing directly to the strategy.”

The board established three working committees to support each domain, or area of focus — data analytics, prospect research and relationship management — within the BOK and tapped non-board members to chair each committee. Over a six-month period, a combined team of more than 50 volunteers devoted hundreds of hours to produce the current document.

With APRA being new to the BOK process, MacCormack acknowledged that its committee approach also presented key learning for future editions. “The volunteers on the committees were passionate about what they knew in each of their respective domains. Now that we’ve been through it, we recognize that next time we need to do more early on to build consensus, collaborate and ensure that each committee understands how its work might impact another,” MacCormack said. She also noted that board members will be asked to serve as liaisons to the committees for future iterations.

MacCormack said it is premature to assess how much impact the BOK has had on member retention or member value. However, she said it has clearly influenced boardroom discussions and strategic priorities.

“It clearly identifies the gaps we have and helps us reprioritize what we offer to support our strategic pillar for professional development,” MacCormack said “The BOK was a huge achievement for our board. It is how we established APRA as the industry expert for professional development. And, in the process, we delivered something that was meaningful to our members. We also believe we will deliver something meaningful to the industry. It is a great way for us to build new partnerships with other organizations that — for their own reasons — may not choose to prioritize professional development. They can work with us and don’t have to reinvent the wheel. In return, it elevates our industry’s professionalism and value.”

SGNA: Value and Volunteer Leadership

Another organization, the Society of Gastroenterology Nurses, Inc. (SGNA), is a BOK veteran with more than 20 years of experience in refining its core curriculum to enhance member value, strengthen the society’s brand and drive thought leadership.

With more than 8,100 members, the society’s mission is to advance the science and practice of gastroenterology and endoscopy nursing through education, research, advocacy and collaboration. After conducting a member needs assessment more than 20 years ago, the SGNA board identified issues it needed to address regarding how it delivered member value:
  1. Members wanted a common guide to better prepare nurses for critical certifications, as well as generally advance their knowledge in patient care. At the time, SGNA did not offer that to its members. Instead, nurses relied on other sources of information based on word-of-mouth recommendations from their colleagues.
  2. Many of the educational resources that were initially available to SGNA nurses were authored by doctors. As a result, they did not account for the unique and specialized level of care that nurses administer to patients.
In the early 1990s, the board commissioned the development of a core curriculum for its members and asked a team of volunteers to develop it. Over a lengthy period, 49 volunteers worked tirelessly to collaborate and publish SGNA’s first edition of its core curriculum. It was a comprehensive, 400-page volume of everything a SGNA nurse would need to know to build knowledge and expertise.

The board recognized the strategic benefit of equipping its members with a compelling, member-driven core curriculum. Within months, passing rates for the certification exam started to increase. Members spread the word about the core curriculum to peers, and new members joined SGNA just to have access to it. Going forward, the board prioritized the core curriculum as a strategic priority. Twenty-two years, 7,500 volunteer hours and four editions later, the core curriculum is the flagship of SGNA’s member benefits.

“The core curriculum is absolutely integral to our mission, and it has become ingrained within our association,” said SGNA President Colleen Keith, who has served on the volunteer team that has created several editions of the core curriculum. “The core curriculum is the launching pad for everything we do. It helps us assess what is working and what is not. It influences our board priorities. It dictates our online training offerings, and it shapes what we offer our members at conferences. It is the building block for most initiatives that we bring to our members.”

Advice for Boards Considering a BOK

Building a successful BOK is not an overnight project. Both setup and execution requires a thoughtful, strategic approach. Fortunately, SGNA and APRA can offer suggestions to help guide other organizations considering BOKs.
  • Start small and grow as you go. For many associations, launching a BOK could seem overwhelming. Do not be discouraged. Both SGNA and APRA maintain that it is not the thickness of the BOK documents that matters. What counts is that the association is delivering value to members, even if it is initially in the form of a pocket-guide or smaller document.
  • Do not rush. In APRA’s case, it took six months to launch. For SGNA, a typical preparation cycle for a new edition is 18 months. Each BOK is different.
  • Build awareness with key stakeholders. In addition to the board and the volunteer teams building the BOK, there are likely other key stakeholders within your association who should be informed early and become ambassadors.
  • Keep refining. Today’s marketplace is dynamic, complex, competitive and always changing. Once a BOK is introduced, it could quickly become outdated unless it is continually adapted to address new industry trends. Treat it as a living document.
Education is a need for almost all association and professional society members, and there are many ways to deliver it. For many associations, a BOK can provide tremendous value for members over a substantial amount of time. It is important to stress that if the need for excellent professional development goes unmet, members will seek other resources to fill the void. Fortunately, a well-developed BOK can help avoid that outcome. A BOK can also help an organization capture market share if competing groups are not delivering in this area. It is clear that under the right circumstances, both members and their organizations can benefit from a BOK.


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