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The Benefits of a “CAE Culture”

Employers that support professional development for staff both nurture the team’s growth and build a competitive advantage. Associations can gain that leg up by encouraging staff to pursue the Certified Association Executive credential, according to two seasoned association leaders.

By Theresa Kramer-Burgess, CAE

Does the Certified Association Executive credential make a difference to an organization’s workforce? Are there benefits to nurturing a CAE culture in an association, one that supports the values and principles of the CAE and encourages staff to earn the designation?

Yes and yes, say Henry Chamberlain, APR, FASAE, CAE, and Patricia M. Areno, CAE, both executives at the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International. The organization is a federation of 91 BOMA U.S. associations and 17 international affiliates. Of 33 full-time staff, seven have earned their CAE. Chamberlain, BOMA president and chief operating officer, earned his CAE in 1991. Areno, a senior VP at the association, earned her credential in 1987.

Colleagues for nearly three decades, the two recently shared their thoughts (frequently finishing each other’s sentences) on how BOMA’s CAE culture has helped the organization build a staff team with a broad base of association management knowledge. Their answers are consolidated here. 

Q: Describe the “CAE culture” at BOMA.

A: The CAE is part of our DNA. We believe the program is the best body of knowledge that you can have for association management.

At BOMA, we work as a team, across departments, so it’s very helpful when staff understands what’s behind another individual’s or another department’s work.  Understanding is key, and the perspective gained through the CAE gives a big-picture view of how associations work.

Q: Have you been able to quantify the impact on your association?

A: Our CAE culture contributes to our having a very efficient business model. Our administrative costs are significantly below average. Most significantly, we don’t make many mistakes. 

It also helps that staff are well qualified and empowered. They have the knowledge and credentials to perform their jobs effectively, and fewer issues need to be elevated to the executive office. Our vice presidents are, in effect, CEOs of their departments.

“Our CAE culture contributes to our having a very efficient business model. Our administrative costs are significantly below average. Most significantly, we don’t make many mistakes.”

-Henry Chamberlain, FASAE, CAE, and Patricia M. Areno, CAE

Q: How does BOMA support and encourage staff earning their CAE?

A: BOMA covers all expenses for the initial certification, including publications, review courses, and time off to study, and we award a $1,000 bonus to staff when they earn the designation. We also cover all expenses, including classes and events, for recertification.

Our employee handbook includes opportunities for professional advancement. Each year, employees have a professional and a personal plan. In the personal plan for education, the employee lists his or her education goals for the year. If someone is at the right point in their career, the CAE is encouraged.

Actually, all professional certifications and continuous learning are encouraged. In addition to the CAE, our staff members hold the IOM, APR, and CMP credentials, as well as advanced academic degrees.

Q. What do you find to be the most effective means of promoting the CAE?

A: Cake and ice cream! We celebrate new CAEs with a party at staff meetings.

Plus, we make announcements to the federated associations. The CAE helps raise our staff’s credibility with the BOMA association executives (BAEs), the executive directors of our federated associations. A number of the BAEs and their staff have also earned the CAE, so we have a CAE ribbon for our convention badges.

We also make an announcement to leadership when BOMA staffers earn their CAE and when a BAE gets his or her CAE. In our structure, having more CAEs elevates the dialogue and sends a message that the BAEs can be more than administrative—they can be leaders.

Q: Are there other tangible benefits of your CAE culture?

A: All money spent on staff development comes back to benefit the association. By going outside the walls of your own association, you’re seeing what’s taking place in the association community at large.

The CAE recertification process forces you to develop yourself and get out of your comfort zone a bit. Through speaking, serving on committees, and authoring articles, staff develop new skills. This all comes back to benefit BOMA. For example, through volunteering with the ASAE Fellows program, we were inspired to develop a BOMA Fellows program.

Organizations that don’t fully utilize the knowledge and resources available through the CAE program are missing a great opportunity to develop a high-performing workforce.

Theresa Kramer-Burgess, CAE, is an association marketing and communications consultant in Alexandria, Virginia. Email: [email protected]

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