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National Association of Realtors

NAR offers MBA equivalent to Associations, and 38 graduate without patting selves on back: a deeper look

There is a little known program that was a massive undertaking for NAR and 175 Association leaders, so we’re blowing open the books and taking a deeper look at how the Association world has quietly raised its own bar without patting themselves on the back.

Man writing representing studying and learning.

There were no fireworks on the night that the first class of the Pinnacle Group graduated There was no Mercedes-Benz giveaway or a vacation to Aruba for the graduates. There was no jumbled alphabet soup these people were given for their business cards. No, in a humble ceremony, leadership at a select few real estate associations shook hands with Dale Stinton, the CEO of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), were given certificates, everyone clapped, and they went right back to work.

You see, Pinnacle Group is what they call the program that offers real estate association management the equivalent of an MBA, but there were no keggers following the conclusion of the program, because these people were not in it for the back pats, they were in it to raise their own bar, to borrow a tired phrase. Beginning in 2012, the group of 38 Realtor Associations in participation had to send at least three people (both executives and elected) for this grueling boot camp slash brain share slash continuing education on steroids. Most Associations ended up sending six to seven people to participate, getting the most out of the program as possible.

Before we dive into the details of the program and how it came to be, it is important to note that the name of the game here is evolution, not revolution. This program stands out because in the era of flashy copy in an industry clamoring for change, instead of offering radical yet empty platitudes, these folks slowly but surely digested nearly 800 pages of lessons and endless hours of studying, presenting, learning, and implementing.

How this program came to be

The day this site launched, you learned about big changes that were coming to the associations from the top (NAR) called Core Standards, forcing all to meet basic standards in six areas (the Code of Ethics, advocacy, consumer outreach, unification efforts and support of the REALTOR organization, technology, and financial solvency). The finalization of this plan inspired endless chatter, both in support and in criticism (as any big move tends to do).

But what few people know is that prior to the Core Standards being announced, Stinton had already begun working with industry leaders Stefan Swanepoel and Jeremy Conaway to create a completely new and original education program for association leaders to do just that. In fact, Swanepoel tells us that the Pinnacle Group education program was largely influential in the development of the Core Standards, rather than vice versa. “As we suspected, it turns out that you can teach an old dog new tricks,” Swanepoel emphasized, noting that these 38 associations qualified for the Core Standards before they even existed, as the intent of the program was to set an even higher bar than the basic standards.

The impressive details of this program

How do associations prepare for the onslaught of industry changes? How do they equip themselves for the challenges of an ever-innovating landscape? These are the very questions Swanepoel tells us were asked of him by Stinton as the idea was hatched. No such program existed or had been attempted before, so there was no template to pull from or hidden NAR manuals to emulate, rather the creators started from scratch, and every module was created less than 90 days before being delivered to participants. It doesn’t get fresher than that.

There were six modules wherein ad-free materials were presented business school style to the association teams, and after each, they all came together in one room, flying in from Tulsa, Houston, San Francisco, Orlando, Duluth, and dozens of other cities. They buckled down for a handful of nine hour days as the next module was delivered. They then boarded their planes, brains crammed full, new module and assignments in hand, and went back to their day job as they spent lunches, nights, and weekends on the materials. For some, it must have been like a second job, because if one lone assignment was to learn strategic planning, they didn’t dream up a pretend business plan, they had to create one for their current Association and present it on the intranet the participants used to communicate in between in-person meetings. We’re talking real work here, folks.

The six modules are as follows:

  1. Creating and sustaining effective and powerful REALTOR® association/consumer-community relationships
  2. Setting and implementing the Association’s strategic intent: a vital Association leadership and management tool
  3. Services and products essential to succeed
  4. Creating, managing, and leading in an ideal leadership environment
  5. Packaging, positioning, and empowering the REALTOR® Association message
  6. Understanding and maximizing the power of data as an Association resource

Swanepoel noted the importance of teaching them how to run like a proper non-profit organization, not a corporation, while holding themselves up to the level of a Zillow or a Realogy. Industry relationships, vendor selection, business planning, marketing, the massive amount of data Associations hold and the power of that data, intellectual law, leadership, mobile, data plans, security, messaging, embracing change, it’s all there. Creating, implementing, and executing, it’s all there.

This is the MBA program for Realtor Associations but you won’t see any flashy logos on Association websites, praising their completion, you’ll simply see it in the cream rising to the top.

Who completed the program?

To educate in a way that minds that continuity must be kept when you balance executive staff with elected folks, the program was a long term commitment completed by the following 38 Associations and 175 leaders (in alphabetical order):

At the graduation ceremony, Stinton told the group, “You are the finest example of REALTOR® association leadership,” as only 2.7 percent of REALTOR® Associations in the U.S. have qualified for this certification. The cream is rising to the top.

What the program costs, who foots the bill

Now, the question on cynics’ minds is about money trail. The average MBA program costs anywhere between $60k to $100k per person, and they’re personally responsible for that cost. The Pinnacle Group program was offered for a flat fee of just over $9k, which was per Association, not per person, so with most Associations putting six people through the program (double the three required), their education was about $1,500 per person. That’s roughly 2.5 percent of what an inexpensive ($60k) MBA costs and costs less than a lone ad spend. Not bad.

The NAR subsidized the creation of the course materials and paid for the consultants and research, and it doesn’t appear to be a money generator (nor are there plans to make it one), rather a way for a massive trade group to really look at itself and ask how it can raise its own bar as members consider how to raise theirs. This is the nation’s largest trade group refusing to stand by while the world around them changes, and offering a real, legitimate way for the cream to rise to the top. While others would offer a more radical course pathway or a different method, it is hard to argue that the NAR hasn’t taken a massive action, prompted the evolution of the Association world, and rejected the industry standard of self-aggrandizing.

What’s next for the program?

Will a new class be announced in days, will new content be re-developed less than 90 days before being delivered to participants? Swanepoel tells us that there has been no decision made on the next steps for this program, as the focus was on this pilot program. Although created by Swanepoel and Conaway, the NAR owns all of the materials and rights to the program. Swanepoel suggested that this program may work online, but only with dedicated mentors. Another option for the future of this program is to package it and train instructors, but Swanepoel felt that the likelihood of boxing this into a shiny DVD course was highly unlikely.

There are two things you can do to make sure this program continues:

  • There has been no decision made as to whether or not there will be another class in future years, so you can reach out to Chuck Curtiss via email to urge NAR to offer this program again for the many Associations that did not participate.
  • If your Association is not listed above, go to their website, find the contact info for your Association’s CEO, email them a copy of this story, and urge them to reach out to Curtiss with their interest in the program.

As an industry, if we really want the cream to rise to the top, we must speak up and take action to urge our leaders to push themselves as hard as possible, just as these 175 have.


Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.


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