Certified Association Executive (CAE) Accreditation

Program Overview

The Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation has become the pinnacle to strive for among association executives and professionals nationwide. Administered by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), the CAE designation demonstrates to yourself and your peers that you are committed to the profession and have a mastery of the principles of the job. In addition, if you are, or aspire to become, the chief staff executive within your association or within another organization, the CAE serves to not only better prepare you for the responsibilities of the job, but also to confirm to those making the promotion/hiring decisions that you are serious about your career. For many chief staff positions, it's a leading determination among the hiring criteria.

Earning the CAE requires a prerequisite amount of involvement in the association management profession and passage of a multiple-choice test. It is an intensive, comprehensive assessment of one's knowledge of all aspects of association management.

To learn more about the CAE and to take advantage of the OSAP CAE Bundle, a self-paced on-demand package designed with association professionals in mind, select this link.

CAE Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible to take the CAE exam, you must meet work experience, bachelor’s degree, and professional development criteria, as well as commit to upholding the ASAE Standards of Conduct and pay an application fee ($500 for ASAE members; $750 for nonmembers). Once you have fulfilled the requirements, you may submit your exam application. Find more details below.

Work Experience

Candidates who apply to take the CAE exam must have five years of experience as an employee at the staff level or one year employed as a chief staff executive or C-suite-level executive at a qualifying organization. A qualifying organization is a nonprofit organization (trade association, professional society, individual membership organization, philanthropic organization, tribal organization) or an association management company (AMC).

In lieu of employment at a qualifying organization, an applicant may have 10 years’ paid service as an employee, independent contractor, or consultant with demonstrated professional involvement within the association community by providing services as defined by the CAE exam content outline or five years of such service if substantially all of your work is devoted solely to qualifying organizations.

Candidates must be currently employed by a qualifying organization or have been employed by one within the last five years. If qualifying under “in lieu of employment” requirements, you must be currently (or within the last five years) employed in paid service as an employee, independent contractor, or consultant with demonstrated professional involvement within the association community by providing services as defined by the CAE exam content outline.

Bachelor’s Degree

Candidates must have a bachelor's degree or higher or, in lieu of a degree, eight additional years of professional work experience.

Work experience can be substituted for a degree on a calculated basis. Each year of completed undergraduate studies may be substituted for two years of professional work experience. Internship experience and service as a volunteer is not applicable toward the employment experience requirements.

Professional Development

Candidates must have completed 100 hours of broad-based, association management-related professional development, as defined by the exam content outline, within the last five years of the month in which you submit your application to be eligible to sit for the CAE examination. For example, an application submitted in September 2023 would have professional development completed between September 2018 through September 2023.

Any continuing professional education offered by any professional entity may be acceptable toward the professional development requirement as long as it is directly related to association or nonprofit management as defined by the CAE exam content outline and meets the guidelines outlined below. The CAE Commission strongly recommends that you fulfill the professional development requirement by completing coursework in proportion to the weighting of each content area on the exam content outline.

Please see the CAE Approved Provider page for a list of organizations, in addition to ASAE, that offer education that is eligible for CAE credit.

Acceptable professional development activities include the following:

1. Live conferences, workshops, seminars or classes (including face-to-face, audio/videoconference, and online) offered by ASAE, CAE Approved Providers, societies of association executives, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Organization Management, or other providers that are directly related to association or nonprofit management as defined by the CAE exam content outline earn CAE credit for actual clock time of qualifying education, including partial credits, up to a maximum of 8 CAE credits per day. (For example, 1½ hours of qualifying education equals 1.5 CAE credits.) Online courses must be instructor-led or meet the criteria outlined below for self-study credit.

2. College or university courses (e.g., face-to-face, independent study/correspondence, online) taken for academic credit at a U.S. accredited academic institution, directly related to association or nonprofit management as defined by the CAE exam content outline, earn CAE credits as follows:
- 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 three-credit semester course would earn 45 CAE credits
- A two-credit quarter course would earn 20 CAE credits.

A copy of a transcript and a course description must be submitted with the exam application.

3. Pre-planned in-depth group study of specific association management topic(s) with interaction among a minimum of three participants from three different organizations earn 1 CAE credit for each clock hour, up to a maximum of 20 credits per CAE application.

4. Individual self-paced study. An educational program used for individual, self-paced study may be recognized for CAE credits if it meets the following criteria (self-study credits, including ASAE Learning Online courses, may account for only one-half of any applicant’s education hours):

  • The program must be suitably recent, as defined by the oldest reference included in the CAE Core Resources.
  • The program must have clearly identified learning objectives linked to the CAE exam content outline.
  • It must include an interactive component such as quizzes, post-tests, or other learning assessment exercises or activities by which participants apply and demonstrate comprehension of the covered content areas.
  • The program must meet recognized standards for effective self-study programs.

Proof of completion (i.e. a certificate of completion) must be submitted with the exam application.

5. Mentoring/coaching. Applicants receiving mentoring or coaching specifically focused on the field of association management and representative of the exam content outline for a minimum of 10 hours can qualify for CAE credits toward exam eligibility, up to a maximum of 10 CAE credits:

  • 0-9 hours = 0 CAE credits
  • 10 hours = 5 CAE credits
  • 12 hours = 6 CAE credits
  • 14 hours = 7 CAE credits
  • 16 hours = 8 CAE credits
  • 18 hours = 9 CAE credits
  • 20 hours =10 CAE credits

The mentor or coach must be a CAE or CAE (Ret.). The mentor/coach and the mentee/individual being coached may not be employed by the same organization.

The CAE Mentoring Form must be submitted with the exam application.

Ineligible activities. The following are not eligible to earn CAE credit:

  • General software/training courses
  • Expo hall hours
  • Industry-specific programs (not general association management; e.g. physicians' CME courses)
  • Networking receptions
  • Breaks between educational sessions
  • Product-specific promotional courses or training
  • Job-related duties

ASAE Standards of Conduct

Candidates must be committed to upholding the ASAE Standards of Conduct and have no felony convictions related to the practice of association management.

Candidates must disclose all felony convictions to the CAE Commission using the Felony Disclosure Form. If the Commission determines the felony was related to the practice of association management or to employment or contractual engagement by an association, the applicant may be ineligible.

Application Fee

A fee of $500 for ASAE members and $750 for nonmembers must be submitted with the application. The application fee, minus a $150 non-refundable processing fee, will be refunded only if a candidate fails to meet the eligibility requirements. Once a CAE exam application is accepted, the candidate can test once within next 12 months (or within two test administrations) at no additional charge. If a candidate wishes to retake the exam within the 12-month period, an additional fee of $250 will be assessed.

If the candidate does not sit for the exam within two test administrations from the time the application is approved, then the application becomes invalid, and a new application must be submitted, along with a new application fee.

ASAE's Online Testing Exam

The exam is no longer a paper exam. This changed in May 2020. The tests are now administered at Scantron facilities nationwide.

The 2023 exams will be held May 1-14, 2023 and Dec. 1-14, 2023 with testing at a Scantron center.  Please see ASAE's website for more info.

The CAE Registered Provider Committee can be viewed here.

CAE Scholarship Program

Realizing that some association executives may have to reach into their own pockets to cover some or all of the fees associated with taking the test, the OSAP Foundation and the OSAP CAE Council has established the OSAP CAE Scholarship Fund.

The OSAP CAE Scholarship Fund will reimburse up to 50 percent of a person's out-of-pocket expenditures related to taking the CAE, up to a limit of $500.

This scholarship is available to all current members of OSAP. Along with a completed scholarship application form, individuals applying for the scholarship must also provide proof from ASAE that he or she has made application to take the exam. There is an expectation that scholarship recipients will participate in the OSAP Study Group Program.

Scholarship monies will be distributed in advance of the individual taking the test; however, if he or she decides not to take the test after the scholarship has been awarded, the funds must be returned to OSAP. If the scholarship recipient takes the test but does not pass, the scholarship money does not have to be returned.

The deadline for submission of CAE Scholarship applications will be set close to the deadline for submission to ASAE of qualifying credentials.

An announcement of the deadline will be made on the OSAP website. The number of scholarships to be awarded in advance of each test will be determined by the amount of scholarship money available.

Scholarship funds will come from fundraising activities conducted by the OSAP Foundation and the OSAP CAE Council and will include appeals for individual donations and fundraising activities at OSAP events. Past CAE Council members, CAE accredited members and board directors - past and present - are encouraged to donate in order to support this direct assistance to the industry and fellow association professionals. Please select this link to donate to the CAE scholarship fund

The OSAP CAE Council wants to ensure that the cost to take the CAE exam does not deter anyone in Ohio from pursuing the designation.

For more information on how to apply for the scholarship or how to donate to the fund, contact the OSAP office at (614) 824-4054.

CLICK HERE to apply for the OSAP CAE Scholarship.

CAE Study Guide

Design your study plan and prepare effectively to earn the prestigious Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential.

Order your study guide online here through ASAE.

Highlights of the CAE Study Guide include:

  • CAE exam content outline
  • Easy-to-use readiness self-assessment, including ways to identify your learning preferences
  • Suggestions for mapping a study plan, including elements of a plan and ideas for scheduling reading and preparation across a time line that suits you
  • Study options
  • Suggested readings by CAE content domain
  • Study and discussion questions by CAE content domain
  • Legal review section
  • Key terms and glossary
  • Ideas for tackling areas of difficulty
  • Last-minute prep and test tips

Additional recommended readings include:

  • Professional Practices in Association Management, 4th edition
  • Association Law Handbook, 6th edition
  • Membership Essentials: Recruitment, Retention, Roles, Responsibilities, and Resources, 2nd Edition
  • ASAE ForesightWorks User’s Guide 
  • How to Read Nonprofit Financial Statements, 3rd edition 
  • The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management, 4th edition

Click here for more information related to the core resources for the exam from ASAE's website.