Preparing for the Certified Association Executive Program

You can view the full article published for the Tennessee Society of Association Executive’s magazine, TNSAE Connect here.

Association executives eager to take the next step in their professional careers can do so with admittance in the Certified Association Executive Program (CAE). The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) founded the program in 1960, which was designed “to elevate professional standards, enhance individual performance and designate those who demonstrate knowledge essential to the practice of association management.”

Tennessee is home to 44 CAEs, while there are 4,393 CAE-certified professionals nationwide. These numbers show promising growth as opportunities become more prevalent in the Volunteer State.

For those interested in obtaining their CAE credential, the daunting task at hand is commonly where to start, and that fact is not lost on other credentialed Tennessee executives. “Applying for the CAE is a bit intimidating, but it is quite helpful in identifying areas where each association executive should strengthen his/her skills,” said Beverly Black, CAE, and TNSAE CAE committee co-chair. “Studying for the exam helped me understand my strengths and opportunities and made me a better association executive. In the years since I took the exam, I have learned so much about association management and am better at my profession since I have that skill set.”

With that in mind, the first step is to begin with self-assessment and planning. There are multiple requirements outlined by the ASAE to help identify eligible candidates before the application is submitted.

Those requirements include but are not limited to: three years of experience as a CEO at a qualifying organization (i.e., nonprofit organizations or association management companies); current employment by a qualifying organization or past employment by such organizations within the last five years; and a bachelor’s degree or higher, or in lieu of a degree, eight additional years of professional work experience.

But prospective applicants may have started the process without even realizing. The ASAE states that applicants who have completed 100 hours of “broad-based qualifying professional development” will be eligible. Acceptable professional development activities must be offered by ASAE, CAE approved providers, societies of association executives or other approved providers, administered five years prior to a candidate’s application. This means that each hour spent participating in live conferences, workshops, seminars or classes earn CAE credits, up to a maximum of eight credits per day. College or university courses taken for academic credit at a U.S. accredited academic institution are also recognized and broken down in the following categories:

  • 15 CAE credits per earned college semester credit
  • 14 CAE credits per earned college trimester credit
  • 10 CAE credits per earned college quarter credit

A copy of a transcript and a course description is required when considering educational credit hours. Additionally, preplanned study groups, independent study and mentoring may be recognized if they meet criteria guidelines. More information about eligibility requirements, including the CAE approved provider page, can be found at

Once eligibility has been secured, the next step is to apply for the exam. Applicants should be prepared to sit for the exam within 12 months of submitting their application. Bryan Harrison, CAE and TNSAE CAE committee co-chair, said its best to think of the exam as a long-term goal. “In many respects, studying for the CAE exam is best approached as a journey than a single event, one that required me to go beyond the book into practicing theories learned on a daily basis,” Harrison said. “These practices reinforced over the three-month study period led to the adoption of new perspectives that not only helped me pass the test, but more importantly, changed my behavior and approach when delivering value to the membership.

The CAE exam is offered twice a year, on the first Friday of May and the first Friday of December. The application fee is $500 for ASAE members and $750 for nonmembers.

Upcoming Application Deadlines

  • May 3, 2019 exam

The application deadline is Friday, February 22, 2019

  • December 6, 2019 exam

The application deadline is Friday, September 27, 2019

While preparing for the exam, TNSAE provides educational programming throughout the year. TNSAE offers the organizing of study groups for association executives preparing for the CAE exam at the same time. Dedicated TNSAE CAE committee chairs Harrison ( and Black ( are also available to answer any questions while studying for the exam. Additionally, ASAE offers a variety of resources, including an exam content outline and a list of core resources available on their website.

When all is said and done, it’s time to take the four-hour examination, which was “designed to assess the ability of test takers to apply fundamental knowledge to scenarios drawn from real-world association management challenges.” The test is comprised of 200 multiple-choice questions which present 159 competencies organized into nine knowledge domains: Organizational Management (14-16 percent); Leadership (14-16 percent); Administration (14-16 percent); Knowledge Management and Research (4-6 percent); Governance and Structure (9-11 percent); Public Policy, Government Relations and Coalition Building (6-8 percent); Membership Development (10-12 percent); Programs, Products and Services (12-14 percent); and Marketing, Public Relations and Communications (8-10 percent).

Once exam results are received, and certification is met, all that’s left is to be proud of the accomplishment. “Becoming a CAE is well worth both the self-evaluation of what you have done in the association environment as you apply and the hard work to study for the exam,” Black said. “Taking the exam is an outstanding exercise in professional development and helps each applicant identify his/her strengths and opportunities. It has definitely made me better at each of my subsequent jobs and in my profession.”

For additional questions for the ASAE, reach out to the ASAE Credentialing Department.

Lori Furtado, CAE

Senior Director, Credentialing


Jamar Wright

Associate Manager, Credentialing


Useful Resources

1) CAE Candidate group on Collaborate has an outstanding library of information on signing up to take the CAE and study materials.  Also — listing a summary of all of the comments to this group will provide a lot of valuable information.

2) CAE Exam content outline–

3) CAE Study Guide Preparation Reference Guide from ASAE–

4) ASAE White Paper on the value of obtaining a CAE–

4) ASAE Young Professionals Video on why to take the exam–

5) Georgia Society of Association Executives CAE Study Materials–

6) Michigan Society of Association Executives CAE Study Materials– online version and other information–

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