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Blockchain is an incredibly powerful and soon-to-be disruptive technological force with potential applications in every economic sector. As with any emerging technology, association professionals need to learn what blockchain is, how it can be applied and develop a plan to take advantage of it.

What is blockchain? 

The simplest way to describe blockchain is as a difficult-to-hack digital ledger of transactions. 

Each digital transaction (or a “block”) is linked to other blocks, adding up an indelible digital chain, which is replicated across the network and cannot be changed. 

This linkage and replication ensures data cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks, making it virtually impossible to cheat the system. The peer-to-peer nature of blockchain transactions promises transparency, which can have huge benefits in many areas of business. 

That’s why trust is the key operator in blockchain. If you ask "where will blockchain matter?," the easiest answer is "anywhere trust matters."  

How can blockchain help nonprofits?

The future of blockchain in the not-for-profit sector is incredibly promising. When we zoom into the opportunities for using blockchain in the association space, we quickly find a wide array of possibilities. 

One example opportunity for blockchain in the association market is in certifications, accreditation and continuing education. This is an area associations heavily focus on across nearly every sector and profession. Associations issue certifications based on a wide variety of requirements including completing coursework and exams, practical experience, references, nominations and other qualifications. 

Current Certification Process

While each certification process is different, outcomes are similar: An individual (or in the case of accreditations, an organization) receives a credential from the association declaring them competent in some particular discipline. Most certifications also require some level of continuing education (CE), for which the association itself may offer educational opportunities to fulfill and/or recognize CE credits from third-party organizations. 

For each part of this process, there’s a burden of proof of completion on the certificate holder, the would-be certificate holder and the association itself. Today, this is done in a manual and highly fallible way. It is a process that can be easily broken with false documentation, or even correct documentation but from a CE provider with inappropriate accreditation to issue valid CE for that association.

Blockchain holds great promise in solving these issues. 

Certifications via Blockchain

Accreditations and certifications could be issued on the blockchain. This would result in immutable evidence of the certification, which in turn could be used by employers reviewing candidates’ and current employees’ backgrounds when they are required to complete certain certifications. 

For example, a doctor might receive a certification from an association for a particular sub-specialty, and their employer could bring in the record of that certification from the blockchain into their human resources platform, in turn enabling that person to perform certain types of procedures. 

In the CE world, if associations and third parties issued continuing education on the blockchain, they’d eliminate both the possibility of fraud and the need for manual processing. An association could automatically track when a CE credit came from an accredited institution, pull it directly into the association database tracking CE requirements and apply it, if valid, to the certification.

This is just one simple example of blockchain in associations, and it illustrates the idea of using the technology for non-financial purposes, not only fully automating a previously tedious process but also leveling up the trust within the system.

The biggest challenge with blockchain that associations will face is becoming comfortable with this new technology. With simplification, training and the right ongoing support, it won't be long before you see blockchain used by associations to the incredible benefit of members and society.

Amith Nagarajan
Post by Amith Nagarajan
April 27, 2021
Amith Nagarajan is an entrepreneur who believes in combining purpose, passion and profit. Amith grew up in Silicon Valley and, in 1993, started Aptify, which is now part of Community Brands. He is the Chairman of Blue Cypress, a family of purpose driven companies which focus on helping associations, non-profits, and other purpose-driven organizations achieve long term sustainability. More at