Certified Association Executive

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The Certified Association Executive (CAE) is a professional certification for association executives. Two separate and unconnected certifications with this name are offered - a U.S. certification sponsored by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), and a Canadian certification sponsored by Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE). Association management professionals must meet certain educational and experience requirements and pass an examination before either designation is awarded.



The CAE certification was introduced in 1960. It began as an essay exam, but eventually a psychometrically valid multiple-choice exam replaced it. In 2003, the CAE exam underwent a massive reorganization to align the concepts more closely with actual issues faced by association executives. The CAE program was accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies in 2010.


In order to become eligible to sit for the CAE exam, a professional must satisfy educational and experience requirements. At the time they apply to take the exam, an applicant must be employed by a nonprofit organization - a trade association, professional society, individual membership organization, philanthropic organization, tribal organization - or an association management company. Applicants must have 100 hours of professional education related to association management in the preceding five years. Applicants must also have either three years' experience as a chief staff officer or five years in an association staff role. A bachelor's degree or higher is required or, in lieu of a degree, eight additional years of professional work experience. Applicants must agree to abide by ASAE policies. Recertification and continuing education are required to maintain the designation.


The CAE exam is a psychometrically valid 200-item multiple choice test that must be completed in four hours. The content of the exam is divided into nine domains (the percentage of questions on the exam from each of the domains is in parentheses):

  • Organizational Management (14-16%)
  • Leadership (14-16%)
  • Administration (14-16%)
  • Knowledge Management & Research (4-6%)
  • Governance and Structure (9-11%)
  • Public Policy, Government Relations, & Coalition Building (6–8%)
  • Membership Development (10–12%)
  • Programs, Products and Services (12–14%)
  • Marketing, Public Relations, & Communications (8–10%)



The Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE) has certified not-for-profit leaders in the practice of association management in Canada since 1972. The designation is conferred to candidates who demonstrate mastery of the not-for-profit management competencies, whether by completing the CAE courses and professional examination or by Prior Learning Assessment Review.[1]


To achieve the designation through the CAE courses you must:

  • have two years of experience in association management and a university degree or 5 years' experience if you do not have a degree
  • complete the five Certified Association Executive (CAE) courses
  • successfully write the Certified Association Executive (CAE) exam
  • be a member of the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE)
  • agree to comply with CSAE's Code of Conduct[2]

To achieve the designation through the PLAR channel you must:

  • have at least ten years of experience in association management
  • submit a portfolio of prior learning for evaluation by a panel of Certified Association Executives
  • successfully complete any additional steps the panel requires (e.g. challenging the CAE examination, completion of a CAE course, etc.)
  • be a member of the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE)
  • agree to comply with CSAE's Code of Conduct[2]


The CAE program is a series of five graduate-level courses based on the key competencies of association management. All courses are delivered online and facilitated by senior Certified Association Executives – seasoned association leaders who provide support and a practical perspective. The courses are structured to reflect activities and processes that typically occur in associations and not-for-profit organizations. Each course contains current references and requires students to submit two assignments based on real-world situations for the organization in which they currently work.[3]

  • CAE 100 - Association Leadership, Change, Strategy & Structure
  • CAE 200 - Association Membership Services
  • CAE 300 - Association Operations I (Operations Support)
  • CAE 400 - Association Operations II (Products & Services)
  • CAE 500 - Developments in Association Management


The CAE exam is conducted via the internet over a weekend. The exam is forwarded to the candidate's e-mail address and must be submitted within 48 hours. The exam consists of three case study questions and is totally ‘open book.’ Candidates are welcome to seek information and advice from any approved source, including: the internet, books, articles, CAE materials and professional colleagues. The only restrictions on the sources of information are as follows: no member of the CSAE staff or CAE faculty may be contacted to assist in answering any content-related question; all applicants will be given temporary access to all CAE course material once their application to write the exam has been approved.