Certification. It’s a topic that’s on many association minds these days. What value do members gain when they demonstrate their knowledge and excellence in a given field, and what is the return-on-investment (ROI) to the association and profession at large? Shelley Sanner, CAE and Managing Consultant at McKinley, had a chance to reflect on these questions, and to think about how her own experience with the CAE could translate into ideas and solutions for McKinley’s clients. Shelley was on the panel, The Difference a CAE Makes, at the ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership’s 2010 Annual Meeting in Los Angeles. She was joined by moderators William Pawlucy, CAE and Senior Vice President of Investools Investor Education; Bob Harris, CAE and Chairman of the Nonprofit Resource Center; and fellow panelists Cedric Calhoun, CAE and Executive Director of the Alliance of Hazardous Waste Materials Professionals; and Dennis Tanimoto, CAE and President and CEO of the Hawaii Credit Union League.
With an informal presentation style, the speakers talked about how they came to pursue the CAE, and what impact the certification has had on their careers. The stories were different, but the underlying value of the credential was universal. Here were some of the key points (with a few extras thrown in from Shelley’s experience at McKinley):
1. Whether you find yourself at the executive or mid-management level, certification affirms your commitment to the profession.
2. Pursuing a certification is not just about landing a better job (although that can certainly be one of the perks) it’s about acknowledging what you don’t know and challenging yourself to learn more. That’s a great exercise that can lead to greater compassion and appreciation for anyone who supervises or mentors others.
3. The point of a certification program is to demonstrate excellence, so chances are the exam is going to be tough. What you develop in the long hours of studying and preparation is a strong bond with the people who share your pain. Think of those colleagues as a “life-long study group” that can provide a different perspective and advice just when you need it the most. Many of the panelists talked about staying in touch with their CAE study groups long after the exam was over.
4. A credential is not just for personal affirmation…it provides credibility with volunteer leaders, colleagues, and the community. In a crowded job market, the credential helps a candidate stand out.
5. Members are serious about their careers when they commit to a credential. Research shows that associations that recognize (and serve) that audience gain more loyal and engaged members. In ASAE’s case, CAEs account for 2/3 of those who have recruited 20 or more members. They also have a lifetime spend that is three times greater than a non-CAE, comprise nearly 50% of total volunteer leaders, and represent almost 50% of Annual Meeting attendees.
6. Associations that help their members earn a credential need to think about education in terms of lifelong learning. Challenging members to think more strategically or demonstrate technical expertise isn’t something that should end once the exam is over.
Shelley appreciated the opportunity to share with her fellow CAEs at the ASAE session, but her greatest reward came after the meeting, when she met one-on-one with a few CAE candidates. Shelley has been an active and vocal supporter of the CAE since earning her credential in 2006, and she appreciates how associations–and the professional excellence they foster–make a difference.