The Next Association Leader: The Chief Value Officer

Michael Tatonetti
September 16, 2021

If I can make one prediction for the coming decade, it would be that the next association C-suite leader should be the Chief Value Officer.

What is a Chief Value Officer? 

A Chief Value Officer is someone who is specialized in value and pricing and can maintain the highest level of value and pricing across the products or services offered for profitability. It is a fairly newer role within the for-profit sector, and it’s a role that I hope the association space does not lag far behind on.

Of course, what works in for-profit can work in nonprofit, but we do have different needs to account for. In this article, I’m going to share four considerations for implementing a Chief Value Officer role at your association.

First: The Title.

Some people wonder, “Should the title be Chief Value Officer or Chief Pricing Officer?”

You’ll notice that in most for-profit organizations, they do not use the word pricing in a public-facing manner often. Instead, they lean towards value.

If you say that you’re good at pricing, your customers inevitably can view you as greedy, overcharging, and it just puts a negative perception on your organization, especially as a nonprofit.

Instead, you want to be perceived as an organization that prioritizes value across your offerings, so I highly recommend that associations take that page out of the for-profit sector’s book and use the term Chief Value Officer. 

Second: where should the Chief Value Officer sit within the organizational chart?

This is one point that I really want to make clear because I recently saw a Chief Value Officer opening at an association – how exciting! However, some people commented that they were excited to see Membership was getting a new title.

I want to clarify that the Chief Value Officer is not limited to Membership.

Membership is one product that an association offers. It is the lifeline of the association, but associations offer much more than membership alone.

There’s sponsorship, partnerships, affinity programs, educational products, certification, in-person events, accelerators, publications – so, so much more than membership alone.

Value should be a priority across the product landscape, and this is the focus of the Chief Value Officer within an association.

With this, the Chief Value Officer should sit alongside the other C-Suite departmental leaders and under the Chief Executive Officer with a dotted line relationship to the other departments to orchestrate the value across the organization.

The Chief Value Officer will review the value that’s being offered, the value propositions that are being written, the pricing that is being attached, reviewing data around sales and consumer behavior, and conduct market research and testing for revamping current products or launching new products.

The Chief Value Officer is not replacing the Chief Membership Officer or the Chief Marketing Officer or the Chief Education Officer. Instead, they are collaborative for the association’s overall value and pricing strategy.

Third: What qualifications should a Chief Value Officer have?

100% – your Chief Value Officer should understand the association space, understand value (and value-based marketing and value-based selling), and pricing.

There are a few ways to showcase this.

The Certified Association Executive credential is beneficial to showcase association expertise.

The Certified Pricing Professional credential is beneficial to showcase value and pricing expertise.

But most don’t have both – in fact, as of publication, only one person in the entire world has both.

So which matters most?

I would argue the CAE matters most because associations are a unique industry.

If someone has strong pricing knowledge but it is all in the for-profit arena, it won’t translate well.

A strong candidate can showcase pricing and value expertise by also showing actual bottom-line improvements through pricing projects and strategies they’ve led for various projects prior.  Ask them to showcase where the price and value was, how they determined the changes needed, where those changes landed, and what the improvement to the bottom-line was.

Bonus Tip: Remember, anyone can raise the price, but if your costs also go up is your bottom line really going up?

Fourth: What if you can’t afford a Chief Value Officer right now?

Do not feel pressure to redo your org chart immediately. You can take incremental steps towards a focus on value and pricing strategy for your association.

A few things you can do now:

  • Have departmental leaders go through value and pricing training, either through a private training or finding one through an organization.
  • Ensure your Marketing lead understands value-based marketing and your Sponsorship lead understands value-based selling.  These are skills that drastically add to your execution.
  • Bring on Pricing for Associations on a project-basis or retainer-basis to be your outsourced Chief Value Officer.  Hey – it’s a valid plug.

So do you need a Chief Value Officer in your organization? No. 

Do you need the skills of a Chief Value Officer? Yes. 

Should you look into moving towards having a Chief Value Officer in the next decade or so? Absolutely.

And until then, upskill your team to make wiser strategic moves regarding pricing and value for your products.

Dr. Michael Tatonetti is a Certified Association Executive and Certified Pricing Professional on a mission to advance associations in their pricing models for financial sustainability. As a Strategic Consultant and Trainer, he works with associations to harmonize pricing and value across membership, education, sponsorship, events, and marketing. He is also an Association Executive with Professional Pricing Society, overseeing education, certification, and strategy for marketing, membership, and sponsorship. Dr. Michael is a proud Association Forum Forty Under 40 honoree for his dedication to the association field.