My Journey to Complete the CAE Professional Designation

By Aina Budrevics, CAE

In the fall of 2014, I set out on a mission to further my professional knowledge of, and skills for, association management by achieving my Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation. I sought to gain recognition within the association community as a CAE and join the ranks of many others who successfully passed through the continuing education program. I am thrilled to share the good news that after taking the final exam this past January, I was recently notified that I had passed and now have the right to use the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation.

Setting out in the direction of the CAE was not a quick and easy decision for me. Some of my peers have the benefit of having other members on their staff who have obtained the CAE or who are CSAE members. This individuals might find motivation from their colleagues to pursue this designation. I don’t have this benefit at my small association, where I am the only staff member who is active with the CSAE. I’ve had to communicate the value of CSAE and the CAE to my coworkers and council members.

However, after a few years of involvement with the CSAE, I was able to grow my own network of CAE members and was encouraged by them to pursue this designation. While many of my friends were off achieving masters’ degrees I saw the CAE as an excellent fit in furthering my own education and credentials within my field of work. I also learned that future employers look favourably upon the designation. I knew this would be a significant accomplishment and body of knowledge to have in my toolbox.

As many of you know, the CSAE offers a highly respected, rigorous and internationally recognized designation called the Certified Association Executive (CAE) Program. The program is built on 44 competencies that demonstrate the essential skills of efficient and effective not-for-profit management. The program consists of five 12-week online learning courses that culminate in a final comprehensive exam. The program is designed for working professionals and completed outside of work.

A little bit about the final exam itself. It was one of the most difficult experiences I have endured, but that makes the accomplishment even more meaningful. Writing has always been a skill that challenges me, as it takes time to synthesize my ideas and produce reports. The exam lasts 48 hours. I completed it from home and had my resources and material from all five courses at my fingertips. The exam task is to prepare and submit three complete reports to ‘your Board’, which requires analyzing three given scenarios and preparing background research, recommendations, implementation plans and appendices for each report.

While I know my support network of my family, peers and OALA members all had complete confidence in my success, I’ll be honest – this exam format felt absolutely daunting to me. However, professional exams, and the courses and preparation required to complete them, are not intended to be easy. They are intended to really test your critical thinking skills and push you to your limits. Following through on the CSAE tips to properly prepare for the exam was extremely helpful.

Members at my association must pass a series of internationally recognized, rigorous professional exams in order to be eligible carry the title “landscape architect.” For years I have helped support our members with the preparation for their exams. However, now I can better relate with the never-ending evenings of studying, and wholeheartedly admire the determination the members at my association have to take their exams. They were a source of inspiration for me as well.

The CAE program offered me an opportunity to further analyze the OALA processes, programs and services, using real time examples and course work. I also had the opportunity to participate in online chat boards to learn about other associations across Canada and their experiences and best practices. I highly value the friendships and contacts I have made with the other students who took the courses at the same time as me. Through the program I have also attained a wealth of resources that I am already applying to the work at my association.

Over the past few years I have also enjoyed becoming more involved in the CSAE and the Ontario’s Trillium Chapter. I volunteer on the Trillium Chapter’s Young Professionals Committee, helping to organize educational and networking events. It has been a pleasure to learn from other young professionals working in associations and to build my network. Now that my courses are completed, I plan to contribute to the monthly CSAE e-newsletter, and contribute to the online young professional forums as well as take advantage of other educational seminars that the CSAE offers.

I give a big thank you to the OALA Councils over the years who have supported my professional development. Thank you also to a handful of professional colleagues who have completed this program and encouraged me to continue on this path to my designation. I would also like to thank all my course instructors: Sandi Humphrey, Dana Cooper, Linda Craig, Beverlie Cook and Doris Lavoie. The course instructors devote a lot of time and energy to help guide the discussions and offer timely feedback to the students. I would also like to recognize the wonderful work that Eve Mechici does to manage the CAE Program at CASE, for always being a friendly and knowledgeable contact to the program, and who quickly responded to any of my questions or concerns. If you are considering beginning the CAE program but have questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m happy to chat and further share my experiences with you!

Registration for the Fall 2018 session is now open and begins on September 10, 2018. To learn more visit:

Article by Aina Budrevics, on behalf of the CSAE Trillium Young Professionals Task Force.  Aina Budrevics is the Executive Director at the Ontario Association of Landscape Architects, and is a member of the Young Professionals Committee for CSAE Trillium.