• What is the CAE® Program?

    The Certified Association Executive® (CAE) is a professional designation awarded to not-for-profit professionals who have demonstrated their skill, knowledge and experience in a set of competencies which have been deemed critical to the sector. CSAE has certified not-for-profit leaders in the practice of association management since 1972. Those interested in the designation can opt to complete the program through the traditional online learning path, through the Prior Learning Assessment Recognition path, or through a combination of both. PLAR may be selected in any of the following courses: CAE 100, CAE 200, CAE 300, CAE 400 (for those in the original program) or CAE Optimize Governance, CAE Establish Direction, CAE Lead People, CAE Manage Operations and CAE Deliver Value (for those in the restructured program). 

    Is the CAE® Program for me?

    Answer: Do you work for an association or not-for-profit organization? Do you (or do you aspire to) work at a managerial level? Do you need immediate and applicable knowledge and skills to help support you in your career? Do you have good time-management skills to balance course work with your personal and professional life? Do you have access to the internet, e-mail and a computer on a regular basis? Are you interested in networking with other professionals in the sector? Then the CAE® Program is for you!

    How will the CAE® Program benefit my organization?

    Answer: In each course, you will have assignments (e.g. a case study or a benchmarking report), assessments, quizzes and other activities to complete. For these assignments, you are encouraged to act as a “consultant” for your organization, which means your coursework has immediate and practical application to your organization.
    In addition, the assigned questions in the discussion forum are specifically designed to get you thinking about your organization. You will share resources, best practices and experiences with colleagues and instructors that will directly benefit the work you do every day.

    How long does it take to finish the CAE® Program?

    Answer: The average student takes about two years to complete the program but you have up to five years to finish. Most students take one course per term and the terms are 12 weeks long. A student typically spends 8 to 10 hours each week on the course. Please note that students in the original program, which is being phased out, have until August 2027 to complete the program and final exam. 

    How can I register?

    Answer: You can register online through the CAE® Course & Exam Calendar, by phone at 416.363.3555 x 242 or 1.800.461.3608 x 242 or by e-mailing cae@csae.com. Tuition fees can be paid by credit card (VISA, MasterCard, AMEX) or by cheque payable to Canadian Society of Association Executives. Payment must be received in full before the course start date.

    What support will I receive throughout the program?

    Answer: The CAE® Department will help you with registration, orientation and access to the course content, as well as any technical problems that come up. The courses are all facilitated by CAEs who each have over 25 years of experience in the sector. The instructors will offer guidance and feedback for assignments and will moderate the discussion in the forum throughout the term.

    What is the pass rate for the CAE® Exam?

    Answer: The current pass rate for the CAE® Exam is 89%. Please note that only students in the original program, which is being phased out, will write the exam. Students in the restructured program will complete a capstone project instead. 

    What will I get when I have successfully completed the program?

    Answer: Once you have successfully completed the program and capstone project (or passed the CAE® Exam, in the case of students in the original program), you will have earned your CAE designation and can use it after your name as long as you are a member of CSAE in good standing. In addition, you will receive a certificate by mail and will be presented the CAE pin at the CSAE Conference & Showcase during the Honours & Awards ceremony.

    What is the passing grade?

    Answer: You must achieve a grade of 60% in each course and the capstone project (or CAE® Exam, in the case of students in the original program) to pass. 

    Are there any other ways to earn the CAE designation?

    Answer: If you have more than five years of management experience in the association sector and think you’ve already mastered most of the competencies, please find out more about PLAR (Prior Learning Assessment Recognition).

    Can I take more than one course at a time?

    Answer: Each course has a fairly significant workload and we do not recommend taking more than one course per term, especially when you are first starting in the program. If you are experienced in the program and have additional free time to spend, we will allow you to register for more than one. Students in the restructured program can take the courses in any order, and will receive a micro-credential with each course they complete. Students in the original program must complete CAE 100-400 before they can register for CAE 500 and they receive a certificate of completion at the end of each course. 

    What is the format of the CAE® Exam?


    Answer: For students in the original program, the Certified Association Executive (CAE®) Exam is conducted via the internet. The ‘open book’ exam will be in case study format and will include three questions weighted at 25, 35 and 40 marks respectively. The CAE® Department will provide you with resources to help you prepare for the exam, and will host a conference call to answer any questions you might have.  The exam will be released to the participants on a Friday at noon EST through the course site, followed by a one-hour period for questions of clarification. Your completed exam must be uploaded in the course site by the following Sunday at noon EST, giving the candidates 48 hrs to complete it.  

    Students in the restructured program will complete a capstone project instead of an exam. 

    How will the CAE® Program benefit me?

    Answer: According to CAE® Program graduates, the primary benefits to completing the program are:

    • knowledge and skills in association management
    • benchmarking
    • networking with peers
    • expanded career opportunities and
    • greater self-confidence and credibility

    In addition, CSAE’s 2024 Association Executive Benefits and Compensation Report found that CAEs earn up to 35% more than their non-certified counterparts.

    What are the topics of each of the 5 courses?

    Answer: The CAE® Program has recently been refreshed and redesigned to align with the five competencies for association executives. The five courses are:  

    CAE Optimize Governance 

    CAE Establish Direction 

    CAE Lead People 

    CAE Manage Operations 

    CAE Deliver Value 

    For full course descriptions, check out the CAE® Course & Exam Calendar.

    The original program, which is being phased out, consists of the following five courses: 

    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 

    For full course descriptions, check out the CAE® Course & Exam Calendar.

    When can I take a CAE® course and how long are they?

    Answer: The CAE® Program offers all 5 courses over three 12-week terms per year, starting in January, April and September. A student typically spends 10 hours per week on a course but this can vary depending on your experience level in a given topic area, and may increase leading up to an assignment due date.

    What types of students will be in the course with me?

    Answer: Students in the CAE® Program come from a variety of backgrounds, with varying levels of experience and education. They also work for a variety of not-for-profit organizations including industry and professional associations, special or common interest groups, and organizations with a focus on health, social welfare, education and religion. There are also some international students in the program (e.g. Australia).

    Do I have to take the courses in order?


    The five course in the restructured program can be taken in any order, and students will receive a micro-credential with each completed course.  

    Students in the original program, which is being phased out, must complete CAE 100, 200, 300 and 400 before they can start CAE 500. Please visit the CAE® Course & Exam Calendar for the last date at which each of these courses will be offered.  

    When can I write the CAE® Exam?

    Answer: The CAE® Exam is offered three times per year in January, May and August. The exam is being phased out along with the original program, and will be offered for the last time in August 2027. In order to be eligible to write, you must complete all five CAE® courses, be a CSAE member and have a university degree and 2 years of not-for-profit management experience, or 5 years if you do not have a degree. 

    What happens if I can’t complete the course?

    Answer: Any participant unable to complete the course may defer to a later date. Any marks earned for that term will carry over to the future course enrolment. A deferral fee applies upon re-enrolment. A student cannot defer a course more than twice during the entire program.

    What will I receive after I complete each course?

    Answer:After the successful completion of a CAE® course, you will have access to your transcript and a certificate of completion. Students will receive a micro-credential for completing each of the restructured courses: CAE Optimize Governance, CAE Establish Direction, CAE Lead People, CAE Manage Operations and CAE Deliver Value. 

    What resources will I receive when I enroll in the program?

    Answer: Once you have registered, you will get access to your course materials which include the readings required for the entire duration of the program. You will also be able to access the student handbook that will cover administrative policies and various aspects of the courses themselves. You will be given access to the course website.  That is where you will access your lessons and additional readings.

    What is PLAR?

    Answer: Prior Learning Assessment Recognition (PLAR) is the identification, documentation, assessment and recognition of learning acquired through formal and informal study. Qualified individuals can submit a portfolio for consideration in order to gain credit for CAE Optimize Governance, CAE Establish Direction, CAE Lead People, CAE Manage Operations and CAE Deliver Value and CAE 100 – CAE 400. Visit the PLAR page for more information. 

    How will I receive my results for the CAE® Exam?

    Answer: CAEs will mark the exams using a standardized marking guide to generate a ‘pass’ or ‘fail.’  The results will be communicated to candidates by email as soon as possible after the exam.  Candidates are asked to allow up to eight weeks for the marking to take place. Once a passing grade is granted, you will receive a certificate and can use the designation after your name as long as you remain a member of CSAE in good standing and complete the CPD requirements.

    What if I need to cancel?

    Answer: You can cancel and receive a full refund minus a $100 administration fee (+GST/HST) up to 10 business days after the course start date. All cancellation requests must be submitted in writing. The course materials fee is non-refundable. Refunds will not be applicable for cancellation requests received more than 10 days into the course.

    What are the goals of the program?

    Answer: The CAE program raises the standards of professionalism in the not-for-profit sector by providing relevant education to executives. It also allows the individual to gain higher visibility within their organizations by demonstrating that level of professionalism.

    How can I learn more?

    Answer: Give us a call at 416.363.3555 ext 242 or email eve@csae.com to book a consultation to find out if the CAE program is right for you.

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