CAE CertificationMarch 20, 2024

Great Benefits to an Association Planner’s Career By
March 20, 2024

CAE Certification

Great Benefits to an Association Planner’s Career
Having a CAE certification not only gives planners clout, but also the know-how when it comes to handling tough situations. The designation is designed to elevate professional standards, enhance individual performance and choose those who demonstrate knowledge essential to the practice of association management. Pictured: Attendees at the 2024 Texas Association of School Business Officials Engage Conference. Photo Courtesy of Tracy Ginsburg

Having a CAE certification not only gives planners clout, but also the know-how when it comes to handling tough situations. The designation is designed to elevate professional standards, enhance individual performance and choose those who demonstrate knowledge essential to the practice of association management. Pictured: Attendees at the 2024 Texas Association of School Business Officials Engage Conference. Photo Courtesy of Tracy Ginsburg

As we move through our career years, we face decisions about how best to move forward. One question that likely comes up for those in association management is, ‘What can I do to be the best leader or the best candidate for that desired job?’

Studying for and earning the CAE credential is one good answer. Even if you’re not quite ready to take and pass the exam, prepping for it can provide a solid foundation of information and skills necessary to succeed in the association field.

“If you’re remotely eligible, even if you’re a year or two off, the prep for it alone is so valuable,” says Pam Rosenberg, CAE, of Arlington Heights, IL, director of education for The American Society for Nondestructive Testing. “I’ve heard cases of people who aren’t eligible and have no intention of taking it but do take it because it’s a kind of an Association 101 course but elevated. It provides a baseline knowledge and really helps you get in the mindset of taking a step back and thinking, ‘What is the project I’m working on, what are the implications, how does this affect governance, do I need to be looking at the strategic plan?’ It just helps in so many ways.”

Rosenberg sees the CAE credential as relevant today even when it isn’t a requirement for a job or position. “It helps association professionals contribute and it demonstrates commitment to the industry,” she says. “Like any industry credential, it shows that the person with the credential is very knowledgeable in the field. And it provides shared knowledge with all those who hold a CAE and an understanding of what’s important to us as association professionals.”

That shared knowledge can be a benefit even for those studying for the exam who don’t yet have the experience or skills to pass it. “It’s always great to have a shared interest with someone,” Rosenberg notes. “This industry is small in some ways but it’s also large and can be overwhelming, especially if you’re new to association management.”

Internally within organizations, Rosenberg says there’s a push for the CAE, especially for those in association management, the membership space and those who plan events for associations. She personally sees the benefits of the credential, which she originally pursued because of an early mentor.

“He said to me, ‘One day you’re going to sit for the CAE exam, so start thinking about it.’ It was more of ‘It’s going to happen’ rather than ‘You should consider it.’ He could see the potential in me, and I was determined to see it through.”

A person holding a CAE, Rosenberg continues, is immediately seen as someone to go to for consultation or brainstorming, someone who understands ASAE, how to navigate the association management landscape and how to continue volunteering within it. “You’re seen as someone who’s committed and who has really earned it. They don’t let just anyone sit for the exam; you have to have been in the industry for a certain amount of time or have the equivalent ED experience, including relevant continuing education prior to eligibility.”

One thing those who have not yet seriously considered taking the CAE should know is that it’s hard. Very hard. “The learning and prep leading up to taking the exam far exceeded anything I ever prepared myself for,” Rosenberg says.

Adequately preparing requires time, persistence and dedication, and sometimes what’s going on in your personal life can make that challenging. Many professionals don’t pass it the first time. As one industry group put it: “The CAE exam will likely be the hardest test you take in your professional life. The path to this certification is full of people who have postponed, quit, failed and tried again. It’s also one of self-examination, deep learning and transformation.”

Rosenberg didn’t pass the first time — or the second. But she never lost sight of her goals. “I was pregnant at my first attempt and had a six-month-old at my second attempt. I said to myself, ‘I’m almost there, I’m going to do it.’ I had a one-year-old at my third attempt and succeeded. One of the things I focused on as I prepped that last time was the legal side of association management and that has come into play in my work more times than I can count.” She still keeps the Association Law Handbook by her desk.

How the CAE fits into your everyday work will vary depending on your particular association. “There are all kinds of association, big and small, and not everything learned is pertinent to every association,” notes Rosenberg, whose career expertise is in education and credentialing.

“I came from a smaller organization when I earned the CAE credential, so membership and events and governance were part of everyone’s role there. Preparing for and taking the exam gave me an understanding of how things should be done. Whether organizations take that into account in practice is another story.” Still, she says, the legal understanding she gained via preparing for and taking the exam has proven very beneficial, and holding the credential has made a difference in her career.

According to Rosenberg, so much of one’s personal career growth is dependent on the self and on taking initiatives. But at the organization she was at the time, getting the CAE definitely elevated her with the society’s board; they had a new appreciation for what she had prepared for and what she achieved. It also opened up unique networking opportunities.

“I was included in some groups and conversations because I held that CAE designation. Today, I continue to network, and I continue to keep my name in relevant spaces and in conversations, whether that’s within ASAE for Association Forum’s community or elsewhere. Holding the CAE has absolutely propelled me in my career, though maybe not in ways that can be measured because taking initiatives on my own has also made a significant impact on my career. Even though a CAE wasn’t mandatory for where I am now, it probably sealed the deal,” she says.

Rosenberg talks passionately about the extensive advantages and value of the CAE even beyond the work environment. She says you can “weave its effects into your networking and volunteering realm and into your professional realm, but also into your personal realm.”

She sees it as a way to demonstrate knowledge, commitment and dedication in every part of your life, as part of who you are. As she learned more about the industry, and as she felt at home in the association management space, the credential became something she knew she’d never let go of — it’s way too valuable, she says.

That attitude is not surprising given ASAE’s statistics related to the CAE. While approximately 60% of applicants pass the exam, those professionals who do pass it, renew it at very high rates.

Lori Gracey, CAE, executive director of TCEA, the Texas Computer Education Association, didn’t start out in the association industry, so the credential had particular importance to her. “Since I did not come from an association background, it was important to me that I gain the critical knowledge I was missing. In addition, I wanted the surety that my earning the CAE would bring personally to me.”

She believes the credential has become increasingly important. “I definitely believe that the CAE certification is more important in 2024, especially for those seeking an executive director or CEO position. Running an association is much more complicated and difficult than it was in the past and the CAE certification is a firm standard that the person who has earned it has the skills needed.”

Like others, she says even if the certification is not required, it’s worth pursuing. “The CAE covers everything you would need to fully understand, or run, an association. For example, if you’re in the marketing department, it will help you there. If you’re working in advocacy, it can help there. Plus, if you do want to move up, you really need to have it.” And while she has no hard data on how much the CAE increases one’s salary, she says her own salary definitely increased when she earned her CAE. That’s just one more reason someone might choose to earn the credential.

Gracey believes the CAE also provides a good understanding of how associations work. “In addition to the critical legal issues,” she says, “you also get a holistic view of the association world. You can see the big picture as well as being able to dive down in a more detailed view.”

It also supplies CAE holders with the skills needed when things get tough. “I think that the whole COVID nightmare is the best example of when the CAE made a difference for me and my association. It gave me a wider array of ideas to try when things got really rough. It also made it easier for me to quickly see if an idea was working or not so that I could abandon it and try something else.”

In short, Gracey says, “The CAE is one of the best things you can do to advance your knowledge and career in the association world.”

Austin Texas-based Tracy Ginsburg, CAE, Ed.D., executive director of the Texas Association of School Business Officials (TASBO), says the CAE has been personally helpful to her in her career, and she sees its benefits for others.

“I think the CAE is important because it has given me a breadth of knowledge to better respond to the dynamics of our industry, and the opportunities we’re all facing. Truthfully, it was a requirement of my job,” she adds. “But would I have pursued it on my own? Absolutely. I want to be like all the other ‘cool kids’ who also have a CAE certification.”

Like Gracey, Ginsburg’s own salary did increase after she passed the exam. “It was a requirement of my contract,” she says, noting that may not be the case across the board. “I think that’s very dependent upon the industry and association.”

Regardless of the salary element, Ginsburg believes CAE certification is important for anyone in the industry pursuing a new job or promotion. She echoes Rosenberg, noting, “I do think the CAE makes someone a more viable candidate at first glance because there’s a level of expertise and commitment required to study and pass the test.”

She also points to the wide-ranging information and in-depth understanding of how the industry and associations work that’s inherent in the CAE exam but often not known to staff within an association as part of their day-to-day work. “I think the CAE allows you to learn about governance, strategic planning, education philosophy and other areas of association leadership that one would not necessarily learn in a siloed position.”

In other words, just by studying for and taking the exam, association staffers suddenly have that critical, “holistic” view of the industry that Gracey alluded to.

The association executives we spoke with offered plenty of anecdotal evidence about the CAE’s benefits. Based on what they learned and experienced, they all enthusiastically advise others to study and sit for the CAE exam, even while noting the intensive dedication that takes. But are there measurable, concrete ways in which a CAE benefits those who hold it, such as salary increases and promotions?

The answer is yes. ASAE has data showing that having CAE after your name is well worth the effort. Moreover, the intangibles that frequently came up — increased community and networking opportunities, for example — are documented as well.

  • Seven out of 10 (70.8%) CAE respondents indicated their responsibilities increased after receiving their CAE while just over one-quarter (27.5%) mentioned no change in their responsibilities.
  • Nearly half (48.1%) of the respondents received a merit promotion since earning the CAE certification while 66.2% received a merit pay increase. Of those who earned their CAE in the last three years (2020, 2021, 2022), 22.7% received a merit promotion and 44.0% received a pay increase.
  • Nearly two-thirds (64.2%) agree that earning their CAE certification increased their networking opportunities; three-quarters agree their CAE certification both advanced their career (75.2%) and increased their sense of community (75.8%) within the association industry.
  • CAEs are mostly satisfied with their experience. Nearly 9 in 10 (88.9%) agree that participation in ASAE’s CAE Program was a good use of their time. Virtually all (95.4%) CAE respondents have had their expectations either “met” (79.5%) or “exceeded” (15.9%) and three quarters (75.7%) are satisfied with their CAE Program experience.

The bottom line is that there are many benefits to taking the CAE exam, even if you don’t pass it the first time. “I would certainly try to pursue the CAE if you desire to advance in this profession,” Ginsburg says. “Study skills matter, and don’t give up if you aren’t successful the first time. Please try again.” | AC&F |

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